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Review Sat Sep 22 2012

Review: John Cale @ Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements 9/21/12

John Cale (photos by Josh Mellin)

It's unrealistic to think that icons can deliver on the expectations of 40+ years of music during one performance. But it doesn't seem too crazy that a musician even with a career as rich as John Cale's might play something from the early days that he's well known for. Unfortunately, that was not really the case at the first night of this year's Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements. Friday's set was a little short on fan favorites and a little long elsewhere. It began with "Captain Hook" from 1979's Sabotage/Live recorded at CBGB, but Cale appeared distracted and made repeated puzzled looks toward a guitarist and the stage-left monitor engineers. The Riverfront generally doesn't put on rock music (and even with Cale's genre-hopping history, he and his band mostly did stick to straight rock'n'roll), so the sound wasn't perfect, but still acceptable. (Later on, Cale made light of having trouble with keyboard settings.)

From there, the set became much more contemporary. Most of 2011's Extra Playful EP was in there, but many people sort of shrugged at each other during those selections. Songs featured a lot of guitar noodling that toed the line of being excessive or not. Midway through the set, Cale moved from keyboards to guitar for the first time and dropped in a highlight of "Helen of Troy" that energized some of the crowd that'd been unenthusiastic about the set. That was followed by a string of songs from the upcoming Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood album, including the funky single with Danger Mouse, "I Wanna Talk 2 U." (No, not a Prince cover.) Judging from recent set lists, this is par for the course. But that's not exactly what people had in mind when they bought tickets for a John Cale show. Expectations should not have been centered around hearing his Velvet Underground songs split with the classic Vintage Violence. But it was a tease when he introduced a song by saying "This is an oldie" and it turned out to be from the 1980s.

John Cale (photos by Josh Mellin)

However, it wasn't all disappointing. When Cale was in a groove, he and the band flourished. While playing, he was very business-like and took pride in performing. Then between songs he looked happy and bantered well with the audience. At one point while playing new tunes, there was a spattering of recognitive applause and he joked, "You're not supposed to know these." A cover of the Modern Lovers' "Pablo Picasso" near the end injected some life into an audience that'd lost its spark. A few minutes after 10PM, he thanked everybody and walked off-stage. The stage lights went off, the house lights came up, an announcement was made about the comedy gig across the walkway, yet the audience yelled for an encore - a seemingly true encore. Cale and his band returned to the stage for "Dirty Ass Rock'n'roll" from 1975's Slow Dazzle. The stage lights remained off, but some fans toyed with the front-of-house gear until they turned on the stage lights to Cale's pleasure... until security whisked them away and the lights went back off, to Cale's chagrin. Overall, it wasn't much like what people expected and many walked away disappointed (aside from the super fans who practically fell over each other to show their adoration), but it wasn't a total loss. You can only judge a performer on what they do. And he dove into nooks of his vast history with gusto and, apart from some boundless soloing, it was well-performed.

Zola Jesus (photos by Josh Mellin)

Zola Jesus opened with just under an hour of her synth/goth/ambient hybrid. Her voice soared magnificently, reminiscent of a younger and chaotic Florence Welch. She was not as zoned in as she may be at her own shows, but she seemed to find some new listeners among the John Cale fans who streamed in through her set.

Zola Jesus (photos by Josh Mellin)

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J. Brandt / September 22, 2012 4:50 PM

I haven't seen that show but have seen Cale live a couple of times over the last two years. I think if he were playing the same 25+ best of over and over, then someone would complain he's resting on his laurels, but yes, putting on some old stuff from time to time would be great. I liked his last EP a lot, don't know what to expect with the upcoming one.

My main beef with Cale live is his guitar player, who, how shall I put it? Lacks subtlety and loves showboating too much. He's too heavy for the material. Alas he seems the only permanent member of his band these days.

Alan Sanders / September 25, 2012 12:59 AM

Showboating, what are from the 1940's?

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