Lou Reed Strives For Perfection On Live LP

Ex-Velvet Underground singer enters a more demanding phase in his musical career.

MILAN, Italy -- After nearly 30 years of creating some of the most

influential music in rock history, Lou Reed said he thinks that he's finally moving

in the right direction -- perfection.

But the artsy punk-rock icon and former leader of the Velvet Underground

doesn't see this as a time to celebrate or reminisce. Rather, with a new live

album on its way and a forthcoming album in the works, he's looking for the

perfect sound, he said.

Interestingly, for Reed these days that has everything to do with his new,

customized guitar.

"Perfect Night Live is the result of a very beautiful guitar made for me by

[instrument artisan] Jim Olson. So beautiful I wanted to emphasize it," Reed said

in the press conference last Thursday in Milan to promote the release of his live

LP. "I got the band together to see if we could do that. I thought it would be

interesting to approach some of the old songs that way. And I was interested in

the purity of the sound, and we did a show which revolved around that sound."

The new double-album, Perfect Night Live (April 21), spans three

decades in the musical career of the former leader of the Velvet Underground.

The recording captures the essence of an acoustic performance from last July in

London and features Reed's guitarist Mike Rathke, bassist Fernando Sauders

and drummer Tony Smith. Together onstage they rip through old VU favorites

such as "I'll Be Your Mirror" and put their own personal touch on "Vicious" and

"Perfect Day," the 1972 song that Reed re-recorded as a benefit single with an all-star ensemble last year.

The double CD will be released in conjunction with the screening of the PBS

American Masters series documentary "Lou Reed: A Rock 'n' Roll Heart," due

April 29.

"It's very interesting to be at this point of my career. I'm just taking advantage of

my experience. I'm starting to know how to do certain things. But I try not to look

back," he explained.

Instead, Reed is thinking of ways of making his new acoustic sound come to life.

Not only did Olson build Reed a custom guitar that he used to record the album,

but Olson also developed a special effect called a feedbucker box that allows

Reed and his gang to eliminate feedback squeal to create a pure sound even in

a live acoustic setting. "I've been interested in different recording techniques

that really don't interest other people very much," he said in his characteristic

baritone. "It's things like that sometimes are the reason songs get recorded. I'm

in love with beautiful engineering, and certain things are constructed by

engineers that are not only functional but beautiful. I also love good sound, and

want to have it on my records."

Reed used the device the night before, during the live taping of "Sonic," a local

MTV program, in which he performed three songs. Decked out in traditional

black, the shortish, curly-haired rock 'n' roller stood before about 300 people

packed into the television studio.

In his most unassuming manner, he quietly picked up his custom-built guitar

and strummed through some of the purest chords ever played, summoning the

melody to "I'll Be Your Mirror" and his single "Dirty Boulevard," off New

York. Later, he performed "Talking Book," one of the three new songs

included in Perfect Night Live.

"Talking Book," along with "Into Divine" and "Why Do You Talk," are taken from

"Time Rocker," the Robert Wilson play for which Reed wrote 16 songs.

Currently, there are no plans to record or publish all those songs, he said. "I

was hoping that 'Timer Rocker' would have a cast recording, but that hasn't

happened yet, I'm not sure about me recording it. I haven't made my mind up

yet. I'm recording it in pieces, as you can see."

He said that his next album, however, will likely have a couple more songs from

'Time Rocker.' "For what concerns doing a 'Time Rocker' album," he said, "that

I'm not sure. Maybe later."

Though he has no plans to tour to promote his live LP, he's scheduled to do

several festivals in Europe. "We're gonna play two festivals, one in Sweden,

one in Oslo, [Norway]," he added. "But there's nothing planned, because I'm

trying to write material for the new album."