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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Tribute to the father of Goth

Edgar Allan Poe's spirit is evoked in a Halloween show with the likes of Lou Reed and Karen Black.

November 02, 2002|Steve Baltin | Special to The Times

Edgar Allan Poe died more than 150 years ago, but as arguably the father of modern Goth, he never goes out of style.

To celebrate that legacy, music producer Hal Willner assembled an eclectic array of talent including rock singer Lou Reed, actors Karen Black and Howard Hesseman, and comedian Will Ferrell for "Never Bet the Devil Your Head," his fifth annual tribute to Poe and his second at UCLA's Royce Hall.

Clocking in at just under four hours, "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" had it all, with eight readings, eight songs, a backing band that included strings and a theremin, performance art, a brief choreographed martial arts dance and a Goth stage design.

Maintaining the pacing in such a multimedia event is difficult, and there were times when it lagged. Still, the highlights offset the lulls.

A segment with Reed and actress Chloe Webb that included dialogue and a version of the Velvet Underground's "Candy Says" came closest to achieving Willner's vision of a sort of theatrical hybrid.

Reed and his band also performed 1973's "The Bed" and an elegant, string-based version of his ballad "Perfect Day." He also read an updated version of "The Raven," which he dubbed "The Re-Raven."

Of the readings, Black's dramatic rendering of "The Fall of the House of Usher" and Chloe Webb's poignant "For Annie," which reminded that Poe could also convey great sentiment, were the most memorable.

The revelation of the night was the New York singer Antony, who recalled the cabaret side of Irish avant-cabaret singer Gavin Friday.

By the time singer Kembra, painted green and flanked by two nearly nude dancers, finished a punk rock version of "My Heart Will Go On" just after midnight, Willner, in his surreal eclecticism, had conveyed the spirit of both Poe and Halloween.

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