Lou Reed has no stage moves and not much of a voice, and yet he transfixed the sold-out crowd at Constitution Hall last night. Rock 'n' roll is so overrun with romantic notions of what could be or should be that Reed's unblinking look at the facts behind the wishes seems mesmerizing in its non-negotiable accuracy. The uncompromising portraits of his lyrics were matched by live arrangements that bristled with jangling guitars, driving rhythms and a deadpan, understated voice.
It took Reed about seven songs to warm up, but when he did, his brilliant quintet locked into a relentless funk-punk groove. Instead of their original drone, Reed's old Velvet Underground songs like "There She Goes" were shaken by convulsions. His one radio hit, "Walk on the Wild Side," lost its gloss as the melody was buried in Fernando Saunders' floating, fretless bass lines, while guitarist Robert Quine scraped out the unsettling rhythm. Quine's jagged, never-resolved fills added the essential sense of vertigo to the ominous encore, "Waves of Fear."
The night's best song was a new one, "Turn to Me," which combined a bleak view of disintegration and a hint of salvation into a galvanizing gallop through the wild side.
In the opening set, the Swimming Pool Q's sounded like the American folk-rock band of the near future. Jeff Calder's lyrics, filled with American landscapes and dreamscapes, came to life in Anne Richmond Boston's big bell-tone alto; Bob Elsey's lyrical guitar fills graced the top of the steadily churning backbeat. All these pieces didn't jell on every song, but when they did, especially on "The Bells Ring," this young Atlanta quintet sounded inspiring indeed.