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

Live reviews

The Jeweller
Gideon's Bible
Hanky Panky Nohow
Ghost Story
Over Her Head
Fear Is A Man's Best Friend
Letter From Abroad
Gravel Drive
Pablo Picasso

London 2005-06-25

"The Meatgrinders"
Meltdown Festival
Royal Festival Hall, London, UK
Review by Ziggy Bell

John Cale: Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar
Dominik Blum, Hammond Organ and Backing Vocals
Nick Franglen: Keyboards, Electronics
David Dramm: Rhythm Guitar and Backing Vocals
Josh Pollack: Lead Guitar and Backing Vocals
Flea: Bass Guitar, Trumpet, Backing Vocals
Marino Pliakas: Bass Guitar
Lucas Niggli: Drums

It's sometime around eight o'clock when the lights go down on a packed out Royal Festival Hall. I'm sitting near the stage in the front row of the upper left stalls, when the Welshman John Davies Cale, Johnny 'flight surgeon' Cale, he with the combed-back rock'n'roller's locks of natural-grey hair, almost tumbles out onto the left hand side of the stage, and like a cat on a hot tin roof, carefully makes his way to his Kurzweil PC88 keyboard that's situated way, way over on the right side. An amazing feat to begin with really, considering the stage is jam-packed with a grand-piano, a Hammond B-3 organ, a large keyboard/effects/synth, two sets of drums and cymbals, John's keyboard and - SO MANY amplifiers, monitors, mike-stands and cables and foot-switches!! etc; etc; - and there's still much more.

But that's no problem - he does it easily, with Nick Franglen hot on his heels weaving his way through the amps to stand beside his impressive 'electonic effects' keyboard, and jazz drummer Lucas Niggli settling in behind his drums - then the highly entertaining Michael 'Flea' Balzary, taking up his bass guitar and immediately beginning to crackle with energy.

And so begins The Jeweller with some nice sound effects from both Nick Franglen and John, and with sparse touches of bass and percussion from Flea and Lucas Niggli. John's voice comes across loud and clear in the hushed hall as the story unfolds and grabs audience attention, and when, begad! - the jeweller peers into the rusty veins of his mirror and sees the overgrown and mysterious, perfectly formed vagina with vulva - well, of course it ends with loads of surprised gasping! - singular hysterical laughter! (from me ;) and finally much applause from all.

Song No. 2 is Gideon's Bible and it plays along just fine. Love this tune and the lyrics too, even though I'm not familiar with the events. Incidentally, it's the first time I've heard these two songs performed live. A real treat indeed.

Gideon's Bible

Holding on, with both eyes, to things that don't exist
Peering through the cutting wrist, at grand old mother greedy
Rolling out the cotton ship, upon the carpet pillow
Throttling children callously, a messy day with Clancy

Gideon lied and Gideon died
The force of China felt
Gideon smiled as Gideon died
The thought of China held.

Rolling out the golden robes and other foreign language
Stretching out the verbs and nouns together in the greeting
Some that felt the blade often, some deep confused emotion
Struck eye first against the wall of China under fire.

Gideon lied and Gideon died
The force of China felt
Gideon smiled as Gideon died
The thought of China held.

Good cheers and a 'thank you very much' then John announces song No. 3, Hanky Panky Nowhow. Sweet and steady is the melody and John's voice is in fine Welsh fettle, reaching all them high notes with no trouble at all.

Song No. 4, Ghost Story sails along. And once again it's a song with a melody and a great story-line. One of my faves this one but I've never seen and heard it done quite like this before, 'cos supersonic lead guitarist Josh Pollack, suddenly makes his entrance for some freaky funky guitar playing at the close of the song and his style contrasts dramatically with Flea's own sympathetic workings to the clear bass line. Great stuff this!

Applause and many thanks and John announces song No. 5 - Over Her Head, and believe me, this is where the sparks begin to fly - HIGH! - and this was when I wished that all you Saboteurs could have been here to see this fabulous show. This is where Josh Pollack displays some brilliant guitar control. He is absolutely alive and bristling with high restless energy. A guitarist able to switch from one extreme to another. From dark textural sounds to screaming glissandos; from droning melancholia to mountains of joyful noise - and in the improv at the end we see him with his head bent over low, standing close to John, nodding away to the beat; with Flea and his bass rocking closely in response then taking off to bounce around the stage in a state of pure bliss! - Oh boy! John's lapping it up watching these performers enjoy themselves and he's displaying some fine piano playing on his keyboard. Well, all's rockin' and all's so damn excellent!! and this IS from only four musos - Nick Franglen, Josh Pollack, Flea and John Cale! and they are having so much fun - all laughing in a blitz of an improv! - WHEN ALL AT ONCE - shhhh... are ya ready for this! - this is truly unbelievable; for Niggli's drums, that up until then had been totally silent, suddenly kick up one HELL! of a storm and Dominik Blum's Hammond B-3 Organ screams, screeches, and wails and becomes an infernal COSMIC DESTROYER! - well, hey there! something like that eh ;) - my favourite instrument ya see!! Yeah! a-a-a-and David Dramm's guitar rhythms come alive and he's churning out some wild and amazing compositions there on the spot!! then the sound kicks up bigger and even BIGGER and better and BROADER until on stage are eight musicians creating one vast universal 'big bang' of a SOUND!!!!! (And, yes I do know that in describing something you can totally kill it - hehe ;) but honestly, as a Welshman I tell you - as a Welshman I tell you most truthfully that 'Yes!' they are a joy to behold! and from left to right there's Dominik Blum on his Hammond organ; the amazing Marino Pliakas on bass; Nick Franglen looking like a mythical creature with that long thin unicorn spike of a yellow beard pointing down to his effects/keyboard like a magic wand; Flea playing bass; Lucas Niggli on drums; the spectacular Josh Pollack on lead guitar and megaphone; David Dramm on a blinding rhythm guitar, and John Cale on keyboard!. Give them a big hand now!! YES! YES! and - YES! again for - the MEATGRINDERS!

For song No. 6, Caravan, we are given the same individual attention to every little detail. Right from the start, when we're slipping away from planet Earth, we are treated to a wealth of experiences until we are SHAKING ALL OVER WITH THE FUNNY STUFF. I know that in front of these eight great musical maestros, I certainly was.

At the end of this there's a thunderous applause that fades to the opening bars of song No 7, - Fear. And this is an outstanding version with Cale giving it his very best - and it's plain to see that each one of the band are digging this fine piece of songwriting. The Hammond organ takes this familiar song to another dimension. Dominik Blum is freaking me right out with such a mellow arrangement, and beside him, team-mate Marino Pliakas totally complements this arrangement on his bass guitar. Meanwhile, over on the right side of the stage we find guitarists Josh Pollack and David Dramm playing an altogether freakier arrangement - and, It all gels so perfectly you know.

Comes the middle part and John breezes through a few bars of Chopin's Fantaise Impromptu then the song kicks back in with Flea jumping high on the spot with a big grin spread right across his face - and further on towards the end when John is screaming hysterically, "Say fear is a man's best friend...!" over and over and over again AND Niggli's skins are spark-red-blistering HOT; Nick Franglen showers us with a blizzard of sound, the likes of which I've not heard before. So very nice indeed - and refreshingly different - hey what ;)

Song No. 8 is Letter From Abroad, and comes across as a work of fine art. This version tops the lot for me. When it starts I think John's having trouble with his voice. I think he's in distress - an asthma attack or something similar maybe, eh? Why is he using his inhaler? hayfever? - nah, Ha! - I'm so daft at times :) of course he's using that small 'inhaler' to give the effect we hear on Hobo. He's telling us of a squalid little town with a tenuous beauty; he's telling us the story we are all now familiar with, and his voice is mouthing the words just fine. Simultaneously, each member of the band is describing in music the effect these words are having on each one of them. And we have a happening right there in the Royal Festival Hall. Flea's on his knees bouncing up and down and bassing it all the while. Dominik Blum on his Hammond organ is the phantom of the opera and pounds out sounds Rick Wakeman couldn't even dream of. And mad! mad! mad! is Josh Pollack and his tortuous screechings of feedback - and mental! is David Dramm with his twister of rhythms - and - so weird is all this. All musos lean in together around Niggli's drums. All bend in over Niggli's drums. Flea is almost squatting inside the bass drum - "CAN YOU HEAR IT? - questions a dark vampyric Doctor Cale - "I UNDERSTAND - NO PROBLEM" - "I UNDERSTAND - NO PROBLEM" The band jams on until we feel they have reached the point of no return, when suddenly with a change in tempo, we find Flea blowing such a plaintive melody on a silver trumpet escorted by the same melody in harmony from the! Hammond. The end of the song is most beautiful.

Song No. 9 is Gravel Drive. Such a sweet love ballad this, and just made for a Hammond organ too. "You're going away again, It's almost as if you never came..." sings John in this new song. Soft rhythms surround his soulful voice and, looking around I see everyone's moved by this music. Flea starts up on his trumpet with nice splatters of sound and all is so very gentle, with not a single whisper to be heard in the audience.

Oh yes! an explosive applause and then John is UP from his Kurzweil and OUT to middle stage strapping on his guitar and belting out song No. 10 - the unbeatable, GUN!!! You can imagine what this sounded like. John's lapping it all up! and I've never seen a band enjoy themselves so much. The audience is wild! and each musician gives SO much to this bouncy rhythmical masterpiece. Flea is like a yo-yo next to Cale. Ha! Josh and David are frantically nodding their heads so low they almost head-butt the stage! They work so good together! Yep! The Hammond organ plays bright and clear visual sound! and Marino Pliakas's bass lines are rumbles of threatening thunder - the drums are laying down the beat and Nick Franglen is a mythical GOD!

And! we are still as high as Mercury when John throws himself into Pablo Picasso. Amazing this! - he lurches around the mike-stand after delivering each sneering line and attacks his guitar when prompted by Flea, who is everywhere at the same time. This is the best version I've seen of this fine song and the Royal Festival Hall agrees with me. It's a joy to see Cale and Flea sing a small duet at the end of this, and they sing something that sounds like, "Goodnight - Goodnight" There might have been a key change before that. I just don't know...

Well! that was the best ever show for me and I'd like to say a massive thankyou to David Dramm for helping me sort out a couple of unclear facts before posting this. I promise to buy all your music David ;)

Bed now - Dead now - Be good to yourselves

© 1999- Hans Werksman