The Mean Fiddler, London, UK
Review by Ken Clark
John Cale played a stunning two hour set last Saturday night at the Mean Fiddler in London which is located in the basement of the Astoria near Tottenham Court Road. The venue was a former dance hall from the 1930s and the faded ballroom elegance was the perfect setting for the blistering performance. There were two tiers to the lower ballroom. The band was located at the back of the lower area with plenty of standing room in what must have been the former dance floor. There was an upper area where patrons could sit all along the sides with large bars for refreshment.
The band has evolved considerably since last year's tour with an ever changing set list and additional treats and special effects.
Throughout the set, Cale moves back and forth every third or fourth song at the front of the stage in between a keyboard rig with lots of extra boxes with buttons and knobs on stands all located on the right hand side of the stage. On the left hand side, the mike stand had lots of spare picks which dwindled down as the evening wore on with both acoustic and electric instruments being handed to him thought those portions of the set in professional roadie style.
He wore a white button up dress shirt loose at the neck with a large black tie containing some sort of repeated small white design. For those followers of hair stylists, he had a very short punk quiff with a David Bowie Young Americans red coloured hallo and a small DA round the back, an elder statesman Johnny Rotten, if you will.
The audience were very appreciative throughout the evening with lots of warm applause and cheering. Cale smiled a lot and genuinely seemed to be enjoying the reception even blowing a kiss at the final encore. There were many elements within the concert that made it a special performance.
For those followers of the water supply, there were two small chilled plastic Evian bottles next to the keyboards with two additional ones located near the guitar area. Roughly every fourth song or so he would toast the audience and raise a swig to the crowd.
There were four large bottles located at the back of the stage over the emergency fire equipment lit by a blue light but these were not used during the show.
His back up band just seems to play better and better. Dustin Boyer was on guitar to the left side of the stage. Dustin played mostly electric with some effects devise strapped to the lower end of the guitar with occasional acoustic accompaniment near the end of the set. He was the perfect foil for Cale's music, playing intricate lines and solos and then just straight powerful rhythm where the music called for it. To my ears he never put a wrong note in anywhere and there were some great trade offs with Cale especially at the end of "Dirty Ass Rock'n Roll" where Cale was doing some wild notes on the upper end of the keyboard and Boyer was doing the same on the guitar taking the whole thing into outer space.
Centre stage was Michael Jerome, thundering away on the drums, sweating profusely throughout the night, keeping things right in the pocket. On the slower numbers or more subtle pieces, he managed to play just the right amount of time to keep it all together. There are not many great drummers in rock and Michael was playing Saturday night right up there with the best.
Joseph Karnes played amazing electric bass, both upright and regular. On "Fear", he managed to reproduce the dive bombing zoops from the record most powerfully. Joseph also played some innovative atmospheric keyboards.
All the musicians provided great backing vocals and many "Do Do Dos" and "Woo Woos" to keep everything very dynamic and passionate.
Cale is obviously still well within the full flush of the renaissance begun with 2003's Five Tracks. His hot young band can blaze through his current material or bend the old songs outside the sphere of time with total ease. He is at the top of his game and well worth seeing irrespective as to whether you are a hardened hardcore fan or a novice to his material. When he comes to your town, there will likely be a whole inventory of changes and modification to his set; be sure to catch it while you can. There will not be the likes of this again.