Lou Reed Kicks off Kunstrasen

Bap frontman Wolfgang Niedecken in the audience, Bonn Lord Mayor Jürgen Nympsch in the VIP tent.  A small field next to a duckpond and just a literal stones throw away from Father Rhine was THE place to be on Friday evening as Brooklyn’s  original street rapper Lou Reed headlined the first ever concert at Kunst!Rasen.

3songsbonn took a walk on the Rhineside…

The first thing that strikes me on entering the new Arena for the first time is how far away the stage seems.  Directly next to the entrance there is now a beer garden area past which  I suspect not a few visitors never got beyond in the humid early evening heat.  The  walk down to the stage  takes me past refreshment stalls on the right and cloakroom/merchandise booths on the left;  beyond  which is the Tribune (or ‘stand’ in English, where people can sit – no, I never understood that either!).  At the far end of the stand is the VIP tent, where Ernst -Ludwig Hartz and Martin Nötzel, co- organizers of Kunstrasen,  are meeting and greeting – and possibly taking it in turns to pray for no more rain over the next six weeks.  Their short press conference is abruptly brought to a close by noise from outside. Messrs Hartz and Nötzel could talk all day, but this sound is worth more than all the words they could put together. It’s the sound these gentlemen have been working for since Museumsplatz closed last year – the sound of instruments being played on an open air stage at Kunstrasen.

The first person to actually sing before a Kunstrasen audience isn’t Lou Reed, but is a New Yorker.  Allison Weiss  is barely out of her teens but has already made a name for herself via the Internet.  Her initial CD was amongst the first to be recorded through donations via the Web.   In fact, if you check out her website you will find she is still  requesting sponsorship to an almost bewildering degree.  $5 will get you a hand signed postcard from the tour, $100 will have her post a video of her singing a song dedicated to you from a field in Europe, and for a very reasonable $200 you can even have a video chat with her before bedtime.  Somehow during all this she manages to play music with accompaniment from Chris Kuffner that is best described as  lively acoustic Indie/Pop.  Simple tales of love and all it’s loopholes that really are very refreshing – “Look me up on Facebook” she concludes “I’m all over the Internet”.  I can’t help thinking that this heavy duty commercialism would have impressed Andy Warhol.  It certainly impressed Warhol’s protogé Lou Reed enough to not just have Allison Weiss supporting him before his own set but also have her supporting during his set – right down to providing the ‘wop do wops’ to ‘Walk on the Wildside’ (a duty of some pride it has to be said)

Allison Weiss

Finally though it’s 7.55 pm and we are allowed into the photopit.  It’s only the second time feet have been trampling there (four early birds with their cameras for Allison Weiss) but already it’s mud.  I try to ignore the squelching noises and think instead of Mick Rock.   Rock’s iconic black and white image on Reed’s 1972 record ‘Transformer’ is one of those ‘Holy Grail’ moments for concert photography.  The shot we all hope to get once in a lifetime (but which Mick Rock  got with annoying regularity in the days of black and white with noise grain the size of golf balls).  Lou Reed is an icon for sure.  Reed and Band are pumping out the notes to ‘Brandenburg Gate’ from the ‘Lulu’ disc  and I have the feeling there will be no iconic images this evening.  The normal ‘Three Songs’ for photos has been slashed to only two,  the stage is so high I can only see musicians from waist up,  and only half way through the first song I get the feeling Reed wishes us long gone.

Throughout the evening I get a feeling that what the audience is here to hear and what Reed is here to play are not mutually agreeable.  We want to hear Velvet Underground classics like ‘Heroin’ and ‘Sweet Jane’.  we want to wallow in the depravity of ‘Street Hassle’ with it’s tale of loveless sex and loveless death, most of all we want to take that walk on the wild side in the company of misfits that make up the characters from Reeds classic epitaph to Warhol’s ‘Factory’.  We get all this too.  But it’s really only when the next track from ‘Lulu’ rolls around that Lou Reed steps out of autopilot.  Each time it’s introduced by name with the announcement “This one’s from ‘Lulu”.

King of Cool – Lou Reed

For non-Lou Reed buffs I should explain that ‘Lulu’ is not the sixties pop damsel from Britain but a recent disc recorded by Reed with Heavy Metallers ‘Metallica’.  It’s based on the Wedekind plays from around the turn of last century, it hasn’t had good reviews in general and I doubt that either Metallica or Reed fans would place it high on their faves list.  Indeed Reed once said that Metallica fans have sent death threats following his negative effect on the careers of their heroes.  It has to be said though that in small, episodic quantities between VU classics, it comes across quite well even if recreating a metal sound requires  half the band switching to Les Paul’s and hitting power chords for ten minutes.  ‘The View’, ‘Mistress Dread’ and ‘Junior Dad’ all bite home, but it was the ‘fiddle’ powered older numbers that really hit the spot for me – ‘Cremation’ particularly with it’s bleak lyric about the “Cold Black Sea” gained an Irish traditional feel at the capable hands of Tony  Diodore, who impressed me immensely alongside guitarist  Aram Bajakian – the duo actually kick started the evenings music as support-support group.

Rocking encores of ‘Beginning to see the Light’ and ‘Sweet Jane’ ensured that the audience went away with good memories and a spring in their step.  They ensured too that the first ever Kunst!Rasen open air concert will stay in the memories of those who were there – not a sold out show by any means, but as a first night it promised great things could come from this venue.  I’d like to see the stage a little lower and the ground better protected from a German Summer that seems to have got it’s blueprint from showery Britain, but the main thing is that Top class Rock music still has a home.  “Grossartig.  aber viele Risiko dabei” (Great, but a risk for the promoters”)  is how Wolfgang Niedecken described the new venture.  “A place for your band to play?” I asked.  “Maybe next year” was the answer.  Hopefully Bonn will give us the chance to find out.

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