John Cale concert at St Luke’s 26 Nov 2003

I went to this show with my brother and our respective wives. We were both very familiar with all of Cale’s stuff except Hobosapiens which neither of us had heard. The ladies ‘knew’ Hallelujah and that was about it.

The setting was small, intimate, theatre sized, in a converted church. Cale dressed in white the first half, black the second. He played a lot of new songs, which sounded like they were first class, strongly melodic, arresting lyrically; but I found it hard to properly appreciate what I was hearing for the first time. His versions of familiar songs were either good (Andulacia, Fear, Cable Hogue), great (Hallulujah, Chinese Envoy, E is missing, Ship of Fools, Thoughtless Kind), or poor (Paris 1919). There were probably others I’ve forgotten. The best by far for me was Chinese Envoy. Haunting. I would have travelled twice the distance (70 miles) just to hear him sing that.

The ladies were awed by Cale’s sheer stage presence and were amazed he was in his sixties. So was I, frankly. As they admitted, if I had said he was 35 they would have had no difficulty believing me. My wife felt he had a ‘hard’ face; not someone to meet on a dark night; but I thought I saw his vulnerable side.

Personally, I preferred it when Cale played acoustic guitar, alone; or the band was muted; as in the two encores. There were some truly great moments; but there was a bit too much ‘rock’ for me. Having said that, I’m aware Cale’s been touring alone for years with just a guitar and piano so he has every reason for wanting to branch out.

Having never seen him live before (my brother saw him at Oxford, during his masked, ‘punk’ days) I’m planning to catch him again at Brighton in December. I’ll make sure I’ve heard Hobosapiens about a hundred times first, though.

Obviously, I can’t compare this to other Cale concerts; so I would be interested to hear what those who can thought of it. For me, it was a great performance, full of energy, with some lovely touches, from someone who is a true original. There’s simply no one remotely like John Cale. I’m sure when I hear him again in a couple of months I’ll appreciate that even more.

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