Manchester University, Manchester, UK
Review by Tim. Photo © Gary Spencer
I don't belong on this website. I'm no John Cale expert. I'm m a Velvets fan (who isn't?), I've got An Introduction to ... and I've read Whats Welsh for Zen and James Youngs funny account of him in Songs they Never play on the Radio. That's it. But I thought you might like a casual fans perspective on Mr Cales recent gig so here goes.
Well If he'd been playing some stuffy concert venue in my town, like Lou Reed did last month (with Kung Fu moves et al) I probably wouldn't have gone to see him. However, I was intrigued when I saw he was playing the Academy 3 which is a tiny, standing venue within Manchester Students Union. So myself and a friend of equal Cale-knowledge went along, not really sure what to expect at all but with open minds. The show wasn't sold out. Kelly Osbourne had sold out the larger hall downstairs to a huge audience of pre-teen apprentice Goths ... little did they know the real dark stuff was upstairs!
Contrary to expectations, John wasn't waiting on the stairs to charge us an extra 3 quid to get in. He was however already on stage doing some serious freeform weirdness when we arrived 10mins in to his early start. But he gradually drew us in.
Firstly I noticed what a presence he had, he's a big man! And I was struck by the intensity of the performance. He's a brilliant frontman and had us grabbed for the duration of the show. You never forgot that it was THE John Cale up there in a venue that normally hosts minor indie-bands! Even though I didn't know all the songs, I never got bored. That's mainly because every song he played was completely different to the last ... there is no 'mid-set' lull here! The sound was excellent and all the samplers and gizmos seemed to be working fine, although JC looked like he was ready to thump someone early on so maybe all was not going as well as it seemed. The band were great, but a lot more professional and polished than I'm used to seeing ... but they would have to be to cope with the constant stylistic changes.
Highlights, well obviously it was a joy to see him reach for the Viola to sing and play Venus In Furs brilliantly. One to tell my future grandchildren about! Paris 1919 was played in a more aggressive version to the recording, he played a completely deranged version of Fear ..., did a superb drone rock finale of Gun and Pablo Picasso and encored with a beautiful Hallelujah. But the best moment for me was E is Missing from the new EP ... one of the the most spellbinding performances I've seen by any artist, just beautiful.
He played lots of great songs I've not heard before so forgive me my ignorance, but in my case (and it seemed the majority of punters there) he wasn't preaching to the converted ... but I consider myself a convert now!