Shepherds Bush Empire, London, UK
Review by Ziggy Bell
It's always a special treat to hear a Cale song that one hasn't previously experienced at a gig, especially when the acoustics of the venue are first class and the team on the mixing desk are out to make this their finest hour - and so it was a huge treat for me when tonight's show, the penultimate gig of John Cale's 'HoboSapiens' European Tour 2003, kicked off with 'Evidence', for it soon became evident that this [now] (musically skin-tight quartet) were about to deliver, with ease, a well practiced set of songs with massive helpings of artistic confidence that would enable them to forget about technicalities and allow them to have fun, make merry, and ROAR! with the music.
With the ending of 'Evidence', that sounded as if freshly plucked from the 'Sabotage (Live)' album, came a thunderous applause as Cale swapped his electric guitar for his acoustic twelve-string to bounce straight into 'Dancing Undercover' - and I say bounce straight in, for this is exactly what he did throughout the show on five different instruments without staggering the continuity of the performance one bit, and with the minimum of chat or introductions. And so, after his drive out on Ponchartrain Louisiana mud, Cale took up position behind his keyboard with an impish grin spread right across his face, a bottle of water raised high in salutation towards his audience and whilst uttering the words, "Howsya doing London?" he fingered in the keyboard program to begin the third song - 'Over Her Head' - and sitting just above him at the side of the stage in the balcony, was the perfect spot for me to watch this man's very large hands work their magic across those seven octaves of keyboard.
Such a powerful song! - "She sees flames in the kitchen it's a vision of hell, a sign that madam is not feeling well.........." - to the ebb and flow of the piano arpeggios - along with - (....Daytime fantasies of sexual abandon permeated his thoughts, and the thing was, they wouldn't understand how she really was. He, Waldo, alone understood this....) - that played throughout in the background, before the song merged into 'Frozen Warnings' - where his voice gained such power!!
'Archimedes' was next, and was played without fault to a (Ooo wup doo oooing) crowd that saw John in his element, and the other three band members having themselves a ball. The guitar player playing only what was expected of him which was mainly the * avant-rock * fills, the drummer doing some amazing stuff with his meagre kit, and, well, - the bass player just cracks me up! - such an expressive musician! and an actor and a face-puller! - he shines in all the songs.
'Chinese Envoy' was fantastic! It started off quietly with effects on the keyboard to be joined by a weave of harmonious rhythms from the drummer's electronic pads - (he would use these to make an incredible impact later on in the show, on the slow melanchony version of 'Gun') - until it took flight with JC laying down those expressive parallel-fifth chords to this familiar and well loved song. Wow!! Incredible!!
After a huge applause to which JC once again raised up his bottle in a modest gesture of thanks, before gulping on it, then grinning with pleasure as he moved across stage to pick up his viola and become the Paganiniesque figure surrounded in red light as he launched the band into 'Venus In Furs' - where the sound of his viola was exceptionally bright as he put it through its paces by drawing out of it the most amazing squeals and screeches that droned us right back to The Velvet Underground and Nico days.
Song number seven, beautifully sung and played on his acoustic guitar and backed by the band, as were all the songs, 'Andalucia' sounded as near to the track on the 'Paris 1919' album as it could be, and the applause still carried on when JC settled back behind his keyboard to begin 'Caravan'. And Wow! This is a little gem of a song, using tapes of strings to swell the sound that begins softly then slowly builds on its undulating rhythm to accompany the thought-provoking unfolding story line. Epic!!
Cale is back on his acoustic guitar and gets a wild reception in the opening bars of 'Ship Of Fools' which he delivers majestically, making it sound as fresh as if hearing it for the first time - and the look on his face as he sings out - "...The tides turned west at Ammanford - As if they didn't know what to do - But Garnant stood its ground and asked for more..." - was that of a man having a good time.
And, at last it's time for screamer number one!! Yeah! the most excellent 'Fear'!! "...When I'm on the prrrowwwwwwwwwwwlllll you'd better run like hell!!..." This was close to the original with JC at the keyboard and much of the audience screaming along with each chorus. Extremely emotional stuff!
And once again the bottle is raised high and his grin spreads throughout the theatre as he prepares himself for song number eleven - 'Look Horizon'. This was a first class piece of work with each band member laying down all the sounds we hear on 'HoboSapiens' and all chanting the end vocal, "...I feel like someone's watching through a window frame..." Magic!
All throughout the perfomance the large drinks bar at one side of the dance floor in front of the stage, is doing a fair trade and many a pint of lager in its plastic pot is tipped down thirsty throats. Cigarette smoking is permitted. Thank you.
JC is back on his acoustic guitar for 'Set Me Free' his voice strong and lush with the crowd swaying to the rhythm of this beautiful tune. And then, before we even have time to applause he's taking off that guitar and putting on his open-tuned acoustic for 'E is Missing' while the guitarist steps behind the keyboard to play the accompanying harmonium melody. Faultless! Then once again, amid the applause, JC is on the move and raising his bottled water high before settling himself at the keyboard to begin 'Magritte'. The tape of strings was once again used to great effect in swelling the sound of this incredibly original piece of music. Great backing vocals from the band! Beautiful play between light and shade of sound. Perfect! - And so, with Magritte quietly ending, and we lost in savouring this hallowed sound, it's one hell of a jolt to the system when he strikes up the opening piano chords to 'Paris 1919' - Yeah!!! - The atmosphere is electric!! - All inhibitions are gone!! - Everyone is cheering!! - We are rejuvenated!! Yes, it's the 'Paris' we are familiar with and his percussive piano playing is at its best, and he's enjoying himself, and the bass guitarist becomes a Shakespearean actor and the lead guitarist laughs across at him and the drummer joins in the revelry! - All in all, this was close to the original, with the guitarist sharing the ** classical interlude **, allowing JC to slip into fifth gear for the descending staccato chords that lead back into the song. Awesome!!
JC is up again and straps on his acoustic for 'Things' which is played without fault to a sing-along crowd. (Sing-along-a-John) eh? - Ha ha! - yes, this is becoming a very popular song. Next up is something more serious and JC takes up his electric axe and it's 'look out' for a stunning version of 'Leaving It Up To You', the second screamer of the night! This was very intense throughout. No time to lose! JC just had to spew out this lyric of razor-wire. Rocking to and fro on his feet. Hissing and skitting into the microphone. Bass guitar thundering along below his screams only to ease up at the end when John performed the most amazing hyper-ventilating display by repeatedly blowing into the microphone. Phew. Scarey stuff!!
Rapturous applause as the band took their bows and JC thanked us for the warm reception and told us he loved us and blew us a few Punk Christmas kisses as they left the stage - - - - - but, they hadn't gone for long.
Within minutes the band are back on stage and JC takes up his electric guitar and they plough into a slow and creepy version of 'Gun'. This is where the drummer uses his Mac Powerbook and electronic pads to create such an eerie atmosphere, that conjures up, well, blood on the windows and blood on the walls - blood on the ceiling and down in the halls. It's where you watch out for big mama's chicken wire! if she don't burn ya first!! - All this atmosphere is extended double when the band harmonise like angels in the chorus "...When you've begun to think like a gun - the days of the year have suddenly gone" - Very splendid stuff indeed!!
Ecstatic applause! as JC moves to strap on his acoustic guitar and strums the opening bars to 'Cable Hogue', tonight's third screamer. Instantly recognizable is this soulful ballad and the storyline it's about to unravel, so we sit back and enjoy a master songwriter performing his craft effortlessly; the hairs on the backs of our necks standing up straight when the wailing begins near the close of the song. Grrrrr!
Wow!, what a feeling! will he play another one?? - More!! - Yes! Yes! Yes! - He's behind his keyboard and - he's playing - 'Close Watch' and the elderly lady sitting on my right declares she loves him, and takes a handkerchief out of her pocket and wipes the tears from her eyes as she dreams on, and on; and on; and on; and on; and on; and on, until the very last note is silent..........BANG!