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March 17, 2019

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Lou Reed’s guitars take New Yorkers to church

AS his acclaimed “New York” album turns 30, the guitars of late rock pioneer Lou Reed are still reverberating in his beloved hometown, giving deafening soundbites to those seeking refuge.

This week, Reed’s widow Laurie Anderson brought the icon’s “drones” — openly tuned guitars propped against amplifiers to produce ear-splitting, unpredictable sounds — to New York’s Cathedral of St John the Divine for a free, public performance.

The show was part of the cathedral’s contemporary exhibition “The Value of Sanctuary,” which features works from 30 artists exploring the notion of refuge and social identity in times of upheaval.

Calling Reed one of the first “noise artists” who “got a little bored with notes,” Anderson said after his death she and others in Reed’s inner circle began doing drone performances in churches, theaters and at music festivals everywhere from New York to Tanzania to showcase his love for “extreme volume” — and its meditative qualities.

Reed — known for his poetic lyricism and deadpan delivery — began creating such drones during his days as the frontman of the massively influential band The Velvet Underground, rock experimentalists who worked with pop artist Andy Warhol.

“It’s so symphonic and so beautiful,” Anderson said. “It’s a kind of music that’s very complex.”

The drones rang out in the enormous cathedral — large enough to lay the entire Statue of Liberty lengthwise within its walls — for some five hours.

They were accompanied at the start with organ music before Anderson and other collaborators began chiming in with instruments including drums and violas, as onlookers filled the cavernous space for a sonic massage.

“It gets into your body somehow,” Anderson said prior to the performance. “It’s so loud, it’s relaxing.”

“It fills you, and you become defenseless. And that’s a nice feeling in this world.

“We’re very defensive these days.”

The concert is part of the 77th birthday celebration for Reed, who died at age 71 in October 2013, and whose biggest hits were “A Walk on the Wild Side” and “Perfect Day.”


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