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

Live reviews

Gateshead 2006-01-29

Sage, Gateshead, UK
Review by Elvis Plebsley

It’s a weird seeing Cale so close to home and the audience is a bit posh. More glasses of dry white than I’m used to seeing. Is it Day of Niagara they’re playing before the band comes on? Sounds good at this volume. Attendance is good, better than I expected. The ground floor is sold out and there’s a few people on the second level.

The band amble on and I’m slightly disconcerted that Steve McManaman looks to be playing bass. Cale looks very tired, and it’s the first time I’ve seen him in Jeans and T-shirt, maybe a throw-back to the old rugby shirt look of the past. Later, he confirms the frailty, after struggling to hit some high notes, he tells us while laughing, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. The flesh is oh so weak.” The set list is much as you already know, minus the new “Jumbo…” Walking the Dog and Evidence get the heads nodding. And Cale suggests that “if you’re uncomfortable sitting down at a rock and roll show, you can come down and fill the gaps here. And if you want to dance or something silly like that…” I’m thrilled to hear Helen of Troy, it’s the first Cale song I fell in love with and ultimately was my way into his music. It’s delivered with all the intensity that I could wish for.

The band are fearsome: Cale’s last two bands seemed a bit one-dimensional; one could rock, but seemingly couldn’t do the subtle stuff; the other could do the subtle stuff but apparently couldn’t rock. This band are as tight as a gnat’s chuff and seem to be having a great time. They can do the lot. I’m no technician but, the guitarist has the right balance in his lead playing between art-rock and out and out rock; the drummer has power and finesse and Steve McManaman proves to be a pretty good bass player.

The genetically modified Femme Fatale/Rosegarden Funeral of Sores is a delight, even if Cale seems not to know the former song very well, the phrasing sounds a bit like he’s making it up on the spot. The counterpoint between the “screaming whores” lyric with the “femme fatale” backing vocals is a brilliant touch. One of the best moments is the keyboard segue between Hush and Dirty Ass Rock n Roll, it sounds just like these two songs were meant to be together and there’s a high octane charge from one to the other. It proves one of the night’s highlights. Gun is given brutal treatment with Cale demonstrating his guitar monster credentials, forcing staccato, percussive noises from his guitar as the others jam noisily around him. It’s kept from being freeform noise by the punctuation of the chorus. It literally gets people running from the hall. The contrast between this and Set Me Free couldn’t be greater, it is refined and beautiful, an arrangement that is simply lovely. But, in the main this is foot down rock and roll and finally I can see where the claims that Black Acetate is of the same cloth as Sabotage come from. Free of the wide dynamic range and pristine production values that neuter them, these songs are rocking good news. Woman on the record is 50% of the way to a good song; tonight, the directionless hiphoppy bit is replaced with a more fitting arrangement and it’s there 100%. Perfect lives up to its title, a real crowd pleasing rocker.

We get one encore; an extended blast through Pablo Picasso. Unusually, the songs starts off within the Booker T. framework of Jonathan Richman’s original. After a couple of verses of this, it transforms into Cale’s arrangement before morphing into something else entirely, a noisy jam bringing the song to a violent conclusion. It’s easily the best rock performance that I’ve seen from the man.

Now, I’m left wondering, will he come back?

© 1999- Hans Werksman