‘Transformer’ is an album that projected the strange and brooding darkness of one of rock’s most enigmatic performers. This year as part of Wonderland Festival, the ‘Transformer’ tribute show returns to the stage after its smash-hit run as part of last year’s Queensland Cabaret Festival.
Musical director James Lees says the motivation for producing the show initially came from his own experience listening to the album as a child. “It’s a very influential, early album for me,” James says.
“I had several adults in my young life, including my parents, who had very broad and eclectic musical tastes, and I grew up in a musical household as well. So records like ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘Transformer’ were strongly presented to me by the adults who I think were going: ‘please stop listening to this mid-‘80s shit and listen to this’. I really enjoyed ‘Transformer’ and it was the first Lou Reed album I ever heard.”
The ‘Transformer’ album was produced by David Bowie and featured tracks like ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, ‘Vicious’ and ‘Satellite Of Love’ which have become essential listening in the echelon of rock classics.
A poet as much as a musician, Reed painted vignettes of the lives of people he came to know through his relationship with Andy Warhol, such as Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling and Little Joe Dallesandro. “For a little, 14-year old on the Sunshine Coast, listening to songs like ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, ‘Vicious’ and ‘Goodnight Ladies’ it was like, ‘what is this world and who are these people?’. It was fascinating and it was this whole other, unreachable world.
“It is a time capsule that record because so many of the songs have little portraits of those people in it. ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ just name-checks everybody. I think that’s why the album is held so dear by so many people, because they have this fascination with that scene, that time and that world, and that album is such a great picture of it.”
For this year’s performances, James takes on drumming duties, sharing the stage with five acclaimed Brisbane vocalists: Alison St Ledger, Sabrina Lawrie, Lucinda Shaw, Sandro Colarelli and S.S. Sebastian, aka Brett Harris from The Good Ship.
Just like Lou Reed himself, the show is part rock concert and part theatre although James promises they won’t be pulling any shenanigans like playing entire songs with their back to the audience as Reed was wont to do. “It’s a bit more theatre, but it’s not a piece of theatre in terms of the way we present,” James says.
“It’s highly theatrical; our five singers aren’t acting but you could see them as five very disparate members of some carny group that have been pushed together and sharing the same caravan for ten years and they’re a bit fucked up.”
With plenty for the most ardent of Lou Reed fans, James says the show is also accessible to both casual listeners and complete strangers to his work. “One of the best things that came out of the shows when we did them last year was that we had quite a few people come along who said they didn’t need to be a demented fan of Lou Reed to enjoy this show,” he says.
“That to me was very flattering. I even had a couple of friends come along who didn’t know the album at all, not even ‘Walk On The Wild Side', and they waked out saying 'I didn’t know a note but that was amazing’, and I thought we must have done something right there.”
‘Transformer’ plays as part of Wonderland Festival 2016 at Brisbane Powerhouse 7 December.