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

Live reviews

Melbourne 2010-10-16

Live at the Arts Centre, State Theatre, Melbourne, Australia - October 16, 2010. Performs Paris 1919 live in its entirety with the Orchestra Victoria.

Review by Dave Swift

Child's Christmas in Wales
Hanky Panky Nohow
The Endless Plain of Fortune
Paris 1919
Graham Greene
Half Past France
Antarctica Starts Here
Hello, There (with horn section)
Whaddya Mean By That
Look Horizon
Secret Corriba (with Orchestra)
Hedda Gabbler (with Orchestra)
Gun > Pablo Picasso

The band:
Dustin Boyer: lead guitar
Deantoni Parks: drums
Josh Schwartz: bass
and the Orchestra Victoria

It has been almost three decades since I first witnessed John Cale in concert - then, in a large bar in Christchurch, New Zealand.

He was solo and enthralling. Likewise, at Ronnie Scott's in London in 1985/86.

In Glasgow in 2007 (backed by a young band), I was keen to catch up with Cale in his 60s, but sceptical due to the intervening years. But there was no hint of diminishing returns. Quite the opposite. I made a beeline for HoboSapiens the next day.

Last night he performed the latest in his occasional ''Paris 1919'' shows, this time in Melbourne, Australia, with Orchestra Victoria surrounding he and his small touring band. Apologies to true fanatics, I have no idea who they are.

The State Theatre in Melbourne's Arts Cetnre is a sumptuous venue and an astute choice to properly hear the swathes of strings propelling his 1973 masterpiece into 2010.

There is nothing to say about the songs that has not been said, but suffice to say that the orchestra really did bring these beautiful compositions to life, sometimes startlingly so.

Cale sat front and centre at a keyboard, and as focal point this was nicely balanced by the conductor on his right, baton-charging the musicians from his fixed spot.

The lighting and acoustics were as lush as the playing, and there was little to fault. Cale (still acknowledging his audience cheerily but very briefly) got close to the highest notes, even at 68.

He calls for an element of improvisation with every orchestra he works with on this project, and the Victorians did not let him down. Deft touches added new depths to songs almost over-familiar in their splendour.

Cale's guitarist could not come close to duplicating the pedal steel genius of Lowell George (RIP) on Andalucia, but was probably not expected upon to do so. I only mention this as perhaps I am too hung up on that part of the original recorded performance.

The second half of the evening saw the expected tiptope through a back-catalogue with few peers. But of course, we were given no option but to enjoy three or four new songs and one in particular, an unannounced country-ish shuffle, was outstanding. Cale's voice remained strong throughout.

A magnificent surprise was the inclusion of the (I think) rarely performed Hedda Gabler off the 1977 Animal Justice EP. A classical epic upon release, it was absolutely storming with full orchestra and the absolute highlight of the show. Thank you, John!

Wilfully ignoring a cacophony of politely shouted requests from the stalls for songs from all his eras, he ditched the orchestra and reverted to his younger self near the end, with a truly punk-rock runthrough of Gun, seguing into Pablo Picasso, to this day still the only song in the world that rhymes the name of a master painter with ''asshole''. It was indeed delivered, as he once put it, as dirty ass rock'n'roll.

In summary, a tremendous night affirming (as if such was needed) that he remains a vibrant force on stage, whether revisiting his history or unveiling the new.

Dozens of personal favourites never appeared, but it did not matter. Nice to see a sell-out crowd ranging from 20-year-old goths to (yes) grandparents too.

John Cale never gets called an asshole. Not like me.

© 1999- Hans Werksman