John Cale at Brighton 16 Jan 2004

This was Cale’s last show on his European tour.

Having seen John Cale at St Luke’s without the benefit of knowing Hobosapiens back to front, familiarity with the new songs meant I enjoyed Brighton ten times more. The set list was similar, though no Hallelujah, nor Cordoba. In fact, it was almost identical to the others posted recently. 

Queuing to get in, I was worried only a smattering of people would turn up. In the end, a respectable number half filled the Dome. It was a curious mix of young and old, weird and very ordinary looking. It could have been a model train collector’s seminar.

I sat near the front; but as soon as the music started I headed closer to the stage. That was definitely the place to be.

I thought the entire set was musically pretty tight, and song seemed to follow song seamlessly. There was very little talking, or introductions: the songs spoke for themselves.

Over the years, I’ve got so used to hearing musically simple – just piano or acoustic guitar – versions of most of John Cale’s truly amazing back catalogue I found I preferred the recent songs to those I knew almost as well as childhood nursery rhymes. Having said that, Chinese Envoy and Andulucia were fantastic. I couldn’t say the same for Paris 1919. The lead guitar interpretation of the pastoral interlude just didn’t do it for me. There were three great screamers: Fear (unbelievable), Cable Hogue and Leaving It Up To You (visceral); they left me wondering at how much strain a throat (or heart) can take.

I would have liked to hear Zen; but Over Her Head, Look Horizon, Magritte, Archimedes, and Things, were all top class. One song stood out above all the others, though, and that was Caravan. This was performed loudly, but started softly, remained beautifully modulated throughout, and rose to its crescendo so sure footedly I was in awe. What a fantastic track it is.

I don’t know how the enthusiasm of the audience compared with other shows on the tour. John seemed happy enough with his reception. I wasn’t yodeling but I was clapping pretty loudly. Clapping above my head, which is rare for me. I did join in the shouts for an encore, but this was always going to happen, since it was used to both introduce and bid farewell to the band members.

What I hope to see one day is John Cale in concert, alone with his electronic keyboard. Sensitive and accomplished though the others were, it was John’s versatility that shone through. What a voice; what lyrics; what an extraordinary performer!

My abiding feeling was astonishment at how somebody so accomplished – a living legend, as I overheard one person say – should attract such a relatively paltry audience; and how fortunate I was to be there

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