PARK CITY—Lou Reed and Carole King are both 68. They both have been inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Both have movies at Sundance: King and touring partner James Taylor are the pivots for “Troubadours,” while Reed is here with “Red Shirley,” a documentary about his aunt. And both played here on Jan. 23.
But that would be where the similarities end. Reed played at one of Sundance’s hottest tickets, the annual Celebration of Music in Film, while King performed at a party at Cicero’s (dubbed The House of Hype during Sundance) to celebrate “Troubadours.”
Reed opened with “Ecstasy,” the title track to his 2000 concept album. Accompanying himself on electric guitar and with a sideman in piano and synthesizer, he delivered a wonderfully nuanced version of the song. Of course, part of the irony of the droning tune is how mournful it sounds, in direct contrast to its title.
He then delved back almost 30 year for 1982’s “The Blue Mask.” As with so many of Reed’s songs, the harrowing lyrics are startlingly cinematic, with the lyrics creating fully-developed scenes.
Reed lightened it up a bit with The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Sticking With You,” as well as “Small Town,” from Reed and John Cale’s “Songs for Drella.” His delved back into “Ecstasy” for “Rock Minuet,” a gritty look at a troubled son that includes the hard-to-forget lines “In the back of the warehouse were a couple of guys/they had tied someone up and sewn up their eyes/ and he got so excited, he came on his thighs.”
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The audience was enthralled and a little in awe of Reed, although at least one attendee went away perhaps disappointed that he didn’t take a “Walk on the Wild Side.” At one point, the crowd member started loudly singing “Doo do Doo do Doo do do doo” as the “colored girls go” in the song only to have Reed growl, “You wanna come up here and do that?” That was his only comment to the audience. But when you have songs that are as challenging and as intense as Reed’s, the less distraction the better.
King, on the other hand, happily indulged fans with primarily a greatest-hits set. Sitting at a grand piano on a too-low stage, she rolled through seven songs from her tremendously popular 1971 album, “Tapestry.”
Accompanied by Danny Kortchmar, who played on “Tapestry,” and her and James Taylor’s longtime bassist Leland Sklar, King reveled in performing her hits. She seemed to take great delight that 40 years in, the songs still gave others great joy. If she’s tired of trotting out “I Feel the Earth Move” or “(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman” for the 2,000 time, she didn’t show it this night. Instead, she told stories and plugged “Troubadours,” even telling where certain songs appear in the film.
Perhaps in an homage to Taylor, who couldn’t attend, she sang “Up on The Roof,” which she and ex-husband wrote for the Drifters in 1962 and Taylor revived in 1979.
King’s voice is still remarkably clear and vibrant, perhaps buoyed and well-developed after her and Taylor’s extremely successful joint recent world tour.
Two singers and two extremely different performances equal one great Sundance night.