The HighLine Ballroom opened last night, and at first we weren't sure what to think of it. It was … gritty! With wood floors! And decent acoustics … sort of Bowery Ballroom–esque! And it was next door to a supermarket, Western Beef!
Then again, there were leather banquettes and tables lining the main floor, the balcony, and the crowd — hipsters all, though mainly grumpy middle-aged ones. Folkie rockers Okkervil River made a brave attempt to rouse the crowd, but opening for Lou Reed seemed a losing battle. After a good hour of disgruntled complaints ("Bring out the old man!"), the marvelous Mr. Reed appeared, looking rather ripped in a black tank top and his trademark lack-of-smile. No sooner had he spoken the first lyrics of "What's Good" ("Life's like a mayonnaise soda") than Lou proved he's still the crank we know and love. "Matt, pay attention, play the voice up and watch me. Fuck," he deadpanned, mid-song, to the sound guy, followed by a directive to cut the smoke machine. "I don't want to find out fifteen years from today, 'You quit smoking, but you used that smoke machine … '"
"There's a reason I'm still here, you know," Reed continued, and the rest of the show was proof. No "Sweet Jane" or "Walk on the Wild Side," but the crowd ate up Reed's epic spoken pieces, plus enjoyable oddities like "Who Am I" from his Edgar Allan Poe album, The Raven. And then there was that Andy Warhol diary recitation (sample: "Lou Reed got married and didn't invite me. I don't get it. Why doesn't he call me? I hate Lou, I really do"). After a satisfying rendition of "Baton Rouge," Reed brought out the real surprise of the evening: no, not David Bowie (he didn't show). Instead, the crowd got a truly awesome guest appearance by John Zorn, defunct Tonic's honorary godfather. As Zorn wailed away on his sax, with even Reed looking a little starstruck, it was easy to forget Ziggy Stardust and just enjoy what this new venue will focus on: the music. — Rebecca Milzoff