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

Live reviews

London 2003-10-26

LSO St. Luke's, London, UK
Review by Cormac

I felt the organisation of the whole event to be quite shambolic. For a start all the 'winners', who were the first 50 to mail Holly Murray from the BBC, received an email with the rest of the winners copied in the 'To' section. And to see half of the list having '' was sure to spell bad news I felt. And bad news it was, for when it came to the gig the room was embarrassingly half full. The emcee came on and just short of begged the people sitting to come to the front to stand to let on that they had an audience. As I said embarrassing. Awkward silences fell in amongst the lack of audience inaction. Who could blame the audience (me included)? Anyway the emcee said that the first set would be the 'White Set' for obvious reasons...

Bassist, guitarist and drummer were on stage first. Drummer had a Mac Powerbook stage left and electronic pads stage right with his kit in the middle. I say kit but it was only snare, kick and high hat. The sign of a good drummer I say.

Cale came on looking as though he was forty years old in an all white Suit similar to the one in the HoboSapiens artwork - actually it was probably the very one. They launched straight into Venus In Furs. My composer mate, Ed Bennett (who was blown away with me at the Union Chapel gig), turned to me and said "There's no excuse for that sound!" He had a point. It were a dog sound. The sound of a dog. Really. Woof! Woof! Not good. I looked for the sound man and there he was up on the balcony with ears strained trying to empathise with the people 20 feet below him at speaker level. I then saw who was at the place where the soundman should have been, and who was it?

That's right the Mascara Snake! A cameraman and bulbus! Then I realised that this was to be more of a Tee Vee show than a gig. Zen followed and sounded better as Cale was on the keyboard. But Dancing Undercover was a bigger dog. Cale was on the acoustic 12 string which left the faraway soundman further away. A string quartet came on for Over her head and though pretty inaudible they improved the sound. Cale blended a fantastic version of Frozen Warnings towards the end of Over Her Head. Dakiz, another mate, turned to me and said "That's was brilliant." He was correct despite his job description.

Three black female backing vocalists came on for Caravan. Same deal as the strings: less audibility but better sound. Hallelujah followed and that was great although the ten other musicians didn't beat his solo rendition in the Union Chapel but that was a (different) gig. After this number the quartet and backing vocalists exited the stage.

"This is Archimedes" Cale announced to one or two cheers of people who have the new disc and it sounded real fresh. Cale was laughing at the end during his "Ooo wup doo ooo" vocal. Good to see him loosen up. Then he launched into Fear. I was hoping for his deconstructed version but this close-to-the-original sounded great as I hadn't heard it before with a band. The intensity at the end of the song was fantastic if a bit short. Last song of the White Set was Andalucia which he played with a recording of some US military something or other playing throughout. It was surreally beautiful.

He went off and I hit the bogs with two female friends. When we got there there was a queue for the men's and the girls was empty. Role reversal. John doesn't pull the chicks like he used to, which was good as I went into the ladies to pee (and listen). (Whoar!). (Not!). OTF. TF.

Next set Cale came on in a black jacket and his seemingly obligatory shiny black legwear. E Is Missing sounded good. The soundman woke up towards the end of the first set it seemed. Cale was back on the twelve string for Ship Of Fools and you could tell it sounded better.

I approached the stage for Chinese Envoy and the sound was a million times better. Paris 1919 rocked. Look Horizon did too. Things was great. (You could actually see it doing well as a single). The cellist rejoined the stage for Magritte. John was really paying attention to the playing leaving lovely detail in the performance - it's obvious he really enjoys playing the new stuff. Set Me Free was beautiful except for the guitarist hitting a god awful bum note. (He had hit a few of these I thought. All in all I definitely prefered the band's previous guitarist. He seemed to be doing stuff that suited the feel of the performance). Cable Hogue lacked a bit but Leaving It Up To You more than made up for this.

Cale pulled the electric on and hit a few chords. The guitarist pointed to a pedal which Cale hit and there it was: a big fat dirty sound. "Yeah!" I shouted. He seemed to agree. And it was amazing. Rocked out big time. Cale was losing it the way he does at the end of the track. And then he shouted "Stop" and pointed straight ahead. The band stopped. He shouted it again and the pointing seemed to tell the band to do a punch of sound. And again. And again. Fantastic it was.

Off they went and he came back on to do a lovely solo version of Thoughtless Kind on the acoustic. On the last line though I could have sworn that he said "The breast of times are the thoughtless kind." I am still convinced he did. Good man.

Then the drummer, bassist and guitarist came on to close the set with Close Watch. When the song started I realised that I had never seen this performed live and actually forgotten that he had written such a beautiful song. A true testiment to the man's writing skills.

After the song the band exited stage right and the audience didn't know whether to hang around or ef aff. No 'PA' music played to tell the audience that any cheering for encores would be futile. BBC shambolism again.

We walked and talked doing the post mortem and certain things were brought to light. Most thought the band the band were very aware of the cameras and therefore a bit uptight. Ed thought the last band were far superior and we both agreed that this gig wasn't half as good as the one in the Union Chapel - but that was a belter. Beth wished she should have gone up to John and asked for a photo - she felt having been to so many of his gigs he should know her by now - he doesn't I tried to explain. Anyway the BBC people were having none of it. We did get a setlist though. Dakiz thought it was a very enjoyable gig. Katie and Gaye agreed. Beth thought it was a stormer as she had never heard Cale with a band before. I thought he should have opened the gig shouting "Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!" doing his mad pointing thing and then launch into Leaving It. Then we all decided to ef aff home. Can't wait for the next gig.

© 1999- Hans Werksman