Certain Songs #983: Lou Reed – “Strawman (Live 1989)”

Album: Live in Toronto, 1989
Year: 1989

The first time I saw in Lou Reed in concert was on the New York tour.

It was April, 1989 at the now-gone Universal Ampitheater in Los Angeles, and not only did The Feelies open up, Lou joined them when they played “What Goes On” as their encore. Oh, and I pissed next to Richard Lewis, who of course was a Lou Reed fan. As for Lou, he played almost all of New York from start to finish, the climax of which was a version of one of my favorite songs on the album that made it even better..

On New York, “Strawman,” counterpoints rocketing guitars and building drums with an almost quiet chorus:

Strawman, going straight to the devil
Strawman, going straight to hell
Strawman, going straight to the devil
Strawman
Strawman

But live, it takes on a whole new thing: backing vocals. Instead of Lou singing it by himself, the rest of the band joins in with counterpoint and harmonies, and they make all of the difference in the world. The harmonies add an extra bit of melody and the way his whole band chimes in at the end, is utterly sublime.

Strawman
Stramannnnnnn
Strawmannnnnn
Strawman

It was one of those in concert moments that utterly floored me, because it was an extra bit of arrangement that I hadn’t expected but instantly sounded so utterly and completely right I couldn’t believe it wasn’t on the album in the first place. So bonus point to whomever came up with it, and if that wasn’t Lou, good on him for running with it.

But of course, I didn’t have a copy of it, so after awhile I wondered if I’d remembered it properly. Fast-forward a few years, and on some online thingy somewhere has a bootleg of a Lou Reed show from Toronto in the same year. Which, of course, it might or might not be. And there it is: this amazing arrangement of “Strawman,” just as I’d remembered it.

And thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can see and hear it — or a performance equally as good — too!

“Strawman” performed live, 1989

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