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

Live reviews

London 2001-02-13

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, UK
Review by Ken Clark
Photos: © 2001
Steve Gillet

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.

  1. Sold Motel (new song): Excellent lyrics about the global communication age with appropriate sarcasm, would not be out of place on "Walking on Locusts".
  2. Dancing Undercover: Introduced as "Louisiana", a welcome addition to the live repertoire.
  3. Ship of Fools
  4. She's In Over Her Head (BJC) (new song): Another fine new song with incisive lyrics, BJ providing some psychedelic accompaniment and Cale enhancing his piano with sound scapes from an electronic keyboard.
  5. Wedding Anniversary (BJC)
  6. Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night (BJC)
  7. A Child's Christmas in Wales (BJC)
  8. Chinese Envoy (BJC)
  9. The Endless Plain of Fortune (BJC)
  10. Things to Do in Denver when You're Dead (new song): He admitted that he stole the title from a film with Christopher Walken and Andy Garcia. I have not seen the picture so I do not know what the relation is to the lyrics but another fine new song, excellent in a live context.
  11. Leaving it up to You: In keeping with the manic intensity of the studio version, he ended the song hitting his plectrum against the bottom part of the strings on his guitar to a very good effect.
  12. Set It Free
  13. Cable Hogue
  14. Darling I Need You: Cale introduced the song with what I think was a joke about South American tantrantic sex but he got tongue tied and missed a bit of it.
  15. Dying on the Vine (BJC)
  16. Cordoba (BJC): He gave a longer version than I had heard before about looking through Brian Eno's library filled with books about aeronautics and technology for lyrics when they found a 1929 Spanish Textbook where they cribbed some of Lesson 54 to suggest the story about a terrorist.
  17. Heartbreak Hotel (BJC): This particular version had a very gothic "I Could Die" sequence in a frightening raspy high-pitched tone.
  18. Fear (BJC) He played some beautiful musique concrete piano in the middle that even had B J Cole turning his head in appreciation then seamlessly into the "Home is living like a man on the run" sequence. Wonderful.
  19. Style it Takes (BJC)
  20. Thoughtless Kind (Encore)
  21. Hallelujah (Encore) (BJC)

© 1999- Hans Werksman