Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, UK
Review by Ken Clark
Photos: © 2001
At approximately 7:50 Cale walked onstage in black leather trousers, black shirt and a charcoal grey loose jacket. For the next 90 minutes or so he played his standard concert repertoire alternating between acoustic grand piano and acoustic guitar, augmented by three new songs and accompanied about half the time by B.J. Cole, the pedal steel virtuoso. The lightening was sparse but effective giving full emphasis to the natural drama of the songs. B J Cole was fun to watch as well as listen to as he twitched and grimaced to many of the lyrics. The Queen Elizabeth Hall was sold out and an excellent venue to see such an intimate performance.
Many long time fans are disappointed by his lack of variation in selection of songs for concert performance. I first saw Cale solo in 1984, the same material was released on a CD "Fragments of the Rainy Season" recorded on the 1992 tour and most of the same pieces were played last night. I know the man is free to play whatever he likes but for an artist with such a diverse 40-year back catalogue to choose from and having worked with such impressive collaborators as Lou Reed, Terry Riley, Brian Eno, and Patti Smith, it is disappointing that he selects the same sample. This would be valid to introduce new fans to some of his best work but at this point most of the people attending last night's concert appeared to be long-term fans. I am sure anyone in last night's audience could draw up a scintillating selection of what they have not heard him perform live. My list would include "Ski Patrol", "Villa Albani", "Big White Cloud" and "Changes Made", just off the top of my head.
The concert was also a bit of a disappointment in that some articles indicated that there would be other guests to augment the sound. Cale has recently participated in the soundtrack to a soon to be released film "Beautiful Mistake" which contains contributions from Welsh bands such as Super Furry Animals and Catatonia and he has also played in the past with many excellent fine musicians such as Chris Spedding and Phil Manzanera so there may have been some false expectations.
Having said all these things, John Cale performed an excellent concert, delivering fine renditions of his best material with passionate intensity. His ability to conjure up, amongst other elements William Burroughs and New York 1960's avant garde experimentation with equal skill in what appears to be conventional pop songs has endeared him to his cult fans for many years. Last night showed him on top form and no doubt ready to delight us again in the future.