John Cale
Fear Is A Man's Best Friend - John Cale

Live reviews

London 2006-01-25

Cale live in London

The Garage, London, UK
Review by Ken Clark - Photo by Neil McNab

John Cale played a stunning two hour set to a sold out captive London audience last night. He is clearly at the top of his game now and many Caleists, myself very much included, feel that this is one of the top three concerts they have seen him play. Off the strength of a powerful new album, blackAcetate, and a red hot band of young whippersnappers, Cale delivers a complete career retrospective and a look at the future.

The Garage looked like an old cinema with a capacity of 300 or so and the audience were able to go right up to the stage and receive the full blast of the band. Even Cale seemed to enjoy the intimacy as well glaring out periodically at the crowd and even responding jovially to some of the comments.

Many artists of his generation have lost complete touch with their craft. They trade on emotions and ideas they created years ago and run them into the ground for money. Somehow Cale, living in New York, has kept the streets of today alive in his music and it all still sounds very now.

All band members, Cale very much included all played with great passion and intensity. Clearly, after last year's tour, they are firing on all cylinders and greatly animate the material. Cale spent most of the set on guitar, blasting away. Dustin Boyer on lead guitar easily moved from the proto Spedding licks to the screams of Sturgis Nikides, adding his own spice to the mix. Joseph Karnes played great bass and some keyboards. Michael Jerome kept the beat strong and steady throughout. All provided melodic playful backing vocals especially the nutty ones during "Outta the bag" and the new song "Jumbo in tha Modernworld". There was enough light and shade throughout to animate even the most known material into something fine and beautiful and dark and threatening all at the same time.

Here is the set list with some brief comments on some of the stand out pieces: Introduction: There was some great electronic drone music that was played about 15 minutes before the band took the stage, sort of a 2006 version of "Loop".

  1. Walking the Dog On Sabotage Cale deconstructed this rock'n roll classic with a sledgehammer. Last night he gently filleted it, barking along and bringing out in a more subtle way the menace in the lyrics like surreal streams of consciousness.
  2. Evidence Another monster from Sabotage revisited, updated and refined. Savage guitar attack and just spitting out the acerbic lyrics.
  3. Woman
  4. Helen of Troy This monumental warhorse gets a wailing work out with Boyer applying some plastic object to the pick ups to get some tasty post Hendrix screams in the chorus.
  5. Turn the Lights On
  6. Dancing Undercover
  7. Femme Fetale/Rosegarden Funeral of Sores Cale announced this as one song from one time and one song from another run together and he proceeds to do just that. The drum machine beat of "Rosegarden" starts the "Femme Fetale" melody and he alternates the lyrics throughout. This was played in Manchester the night before and is the first time "Rosegarden" has been played live on tour. Cale sings most passionately and the linkage of these two pieces one from 1966, the other from 1980 works perfectly. A wonderful cut up deconstruction of time and place.
  8. Hush
  9. Outta the bag
  10. Guts Even this old classic gets stellar treatment by the band. Wonderful barrelhouse piano by Cale and wailing solos by Boyer with excellent singing by all throughout. This song sounded as new and contemporary as the blackAcetate material. His lyrics are so good that they can be thrown around and jumbled and still come out intact. Interesting lyric change to the original in the first line, "The bugger in short sleeves f****** his wife". Over to Kevin Ayers and maybe a few psychologists for any explanations about that one.
  11. Look Horizon Cale treated his vocals throughout this one like some high-pitched Gollum to undercut the lyrics and also played some lovely resonant piano effects.
  12. Magritte This was accompanied by some excellent viola effects played by Karnes on the keyboard and Cale was also adding some electronic glockenspiel type of electronic percussion for a real rich sonic treat.
  13. Gun Another vintage epic gets a slowed down work and thrashed about, worthy of past Spedding driven jams. The lyrics of the original are robust enough to survive being mashed around and stamped into the ground with spike heels and staccato guitar. Proto heavy metal has never sounded so arty. The song ended with scat singing over a wailing guitar solo, then the last chorus were jammed out with Cale encouraging Boyer to carry on for the sheer pleasure of the drone that was building up and up and up whilst he strapped on an acoustic guitar for the first time for the next number.
  14. Set Me Free On this number a croak was apparent in the vocals but somehow this added to the effect. Throughout the night he was bellowing the words, finding new nuances in the lyrics.
  15. Things
  16. Jumbo in tha Modernworld Great new song, played for the first time live last night with the heavy sound of blackAcetate and stinging lyrics. The chorus was something like "Blame it on the monkey" (George W. Bush III?) and I caught a few menacing bits about "over the Sea of Japan". Looks like he is going back to Sabotage type material in a much more dangerous era.
  17. Sold Motel More wailing "funny" vocals from Cale and the band.
  18. Perfect
  19. Buffalo Ballet
  20. Dirty Ass Rock'n Roll More killer barrelhouse piano and instrumental freak outs bring bold renewed energy to this classic
    (Second Encore)
  21. Pablo Piccasso > Mary Lou Like many a sorry punter, I left the gig before the final encore to catch a train. I will not do that again any time real soon. However, many of the web blogs related that a blistering versions of both tracks was delivered that I am sure will be enjoyed via CDRs.
  22. Outtro: There was more electronic music played over the PA as the hall cleared this time more gentle and pulsing.

And that was it, about two hours of magnificent savage rock'n roll. Cale may not know what category of music he fits into with a career of over 40 years playing different pastiches of music but one thing is perfectly clear. With a small loose pick up band, he really plays modern rock electro beat combo music passionately and intellectually. You can hear in the noise all the different strands from all the many influences, LaMonte Young, Velvets, Rufus Thomas and William Burroughs. Forget the Rolling Stones, in 2006; this is the greatest rock'n roll band in the world. Go and see him now; he is coming to a town near you.

© 1999- Hans Werksman