The Mean Fiddler, London, UK
Review by Karen Langley
The Mean Fiddler is a slightly larger venue than the Garage (where I last saw JC in Jan last year) but still small enough to be an intimate club gig, meaning I could get a place at the barrier right in front of JC's keyboard! JC and the band bounded onstage just after 8, after the usual introductory drone, and he looked great! Dressed in black trousers, big white shirt and dark tie (with some strange motifs - buttons??), he looked energetic and fit (in both senses of the word!) Spiky haircut of varying shades (looked dark, red and blonde in the lighting here - in fact, looked like it had been spray-painted!) It was great to see the band after a gap of over a year, kind of like seeing family again!
JC was in GREAT voice all the way through - really strong on songs like Big White Cloud and Chorale. The smoking ban in the venues obviously pays off, because JC does punish his voice live on some songs and obviously is taking care of it. And the band were really tight, just brilliant - they seem to get better and better. The set was very different from the last time I saw them at the Garage and different from what's on Circus - which is why we love JC, because he's constantly changing and evolving!
What was also lovely about this gig was the atmosphere - JC was in very good humour, smiling, chatty (for him!) and there was a great feeling of enjoyment between the band and the crowd which made it one of the best JC gigs I've been to.
I can't guarantee this set list as I was enjoying myself too much to take notes, but here's what I can remember:
Heartbreak Hotel - opening number, and very different to previous renditions - kind of funky and with "diddy wahs" stuck in - really effective and further evidence of JC's genius at reinvention and reconstruction.
Reading My Mind - I LOVE how this has been reinvented - like many of JC's songs, it sounds so much better live and reworked and heavier.
Hey Ray - introduced as a new song, and JC talked at length about it being about the time between 1963 and 1967 when he was living in NY - very voluble for him. It sounded good, too, and I hope it gets onto record soon.
Save Us - much heavier than the original, of course, and all the better for it.
Model Beirut Recital - sounded fantastic live - amazing how the band can switch from straight rock to something as subtle as the later Buffalo Ballet.
Another New Song (Common Cold?): Didn't get quite such a handle on this as Hey Ray, but can't wait to hear it recorded.
Big White Cloud - this was SO beautiful and melodic - always a favourite from Vintage Violence and JC's voice and phrasing strong and amazing. It's not surprising JC's music ends up on soundtracks so often, it's so distinctive and powerful.
Sold Motel - loved this song on blackAcetate and it's always fantastic live.
Hush/Outta The Bag - these work really nicely live, segueing together and without the novelty of the falsetto, Outta the Bag is a really strong song.
Jumbo in tha Modernwold - I LOVE Jumbo - really got the audience rocking!
Leaving It Up To You/Strange Times in Casablanca - introduced as another two songs put together, I initially had reservations. Rosegarden and Femme Fatale worked well, but something as sacred as Leaving It Up To You? I needn't have worried - JC's touch of genius always works and it was fab to hear Casablanca anyway. I love how he never forgets his older songs.
Ghost Story - another favourite from Vintage Violence, performed impeccably.
Things - a Cale classic.
Cable Hogue - nicely manic at the end.
Buffalo Ballet - this was BEAUTIFUL - JC on acoustic, Joe on upright bass, it was just a glorious rendition. I can't stress enough how well JC was singing tonight.
Dirty-Ass Rock and Roll - a fabulous, rousing finale.
Fear - a blinding version, really amazing - powerful, menacing, JC at his best with a great piano break and screaming at the end.
Chorale - I'd been hoping so much that they'd do this number - JC's voice was amazing on this. Introduced as being about CBGB's and the harmonies were amazing. OK, I cried during this I loved it so much!
And that was it. Another perfect gig from John Cale and his perfect band. Miss them at your peril because they are SOOO tight at the moment. And all I want to know is, when are they next playing London??