Friday, October 1, 2010

A Night Of Magic - John Cale And Band At Royce Hall

Last night's concert was every bit as magical as FBC! had anticipated, with only one caveat: Royce Hall wasn't sold out. Which might have been due to some unfortunate scheduling snafu, since John Cale was playing on the same night as Pavement/Sonic Youth/No Age at the Hollywood Bowl, and they share the same type of audience. *Of course* the smarter, wiser, savvier crowd was at Royce Hall, while the vulgus pecum went to the Bowl.
I know quite a few people who would have loved to go see Cale, but had booked their Hollywood Bowl tickets months ago. Next time, dear UCLA Live programmers, please be a bit more savvy in establishing your calendar, you will make music fans happy.

So, onto the concert.
Cale came on stage in a neat gray suit, white shirt and dark tie, and started right away after a vague "hi LA" or "nice to see you". He's not known to be chatty on stage, and he didn't fail his reputation one bit.
Instead, he marched on with A Child Christmas In Wales that started off a bit wobbly, but that didn't matter at all because by Hanky Panky Nohow it was obvious it was going to be a great concert.
Cale's voice has deepened with the years and has become truly beautiful, and unlike many band frontmen, he can actually sing and in tune to boot (I'm looking at you Lou Reed, but also at you Blixa Bargeld). Shows you what a real musician can bring to rock'n'roll.

From the Paris 1919 part (the first half of the concert), I think my favorite moments were the arrangements on Graham Greene, with a fantastic horn/brass section from the UCLA Philarmonia, and on Half Past France, especially the beginning. I'm linking to a bootleg video of the Brescia concert so you can have an idea about what Graham Greene sounded like.
 Antarctica Starts Here was as beautiful as you would expect, and he concluded the Paris 1919 first half of the concert with a luscious and bouncy Macbeth.

A few people unfamiliar with Cale's music were surprised at how fast the entirety of Paris 1919 went by, but since the original record lasts about 31 minutes, it wasn't that must of a surprise, especially since Cale isn't given to long talks between songs, à la "and I wrote this song while thinking about blah blah blah one night in 1972 when etc, etc".
Clearly the only thing he's interested in is to get on with the music, and beautifully well he does it.
Everybody seemed to have a good time on stage, including the Philarmonia and its very lively conductor.

A short intermission later, the second half of the concert made up in length for the shortness of Paris 1919 and was equally magical, but in a different way. Cale came back in an untucked white shirt and what looked suspiciously like leather white pants(?) in which he managed to look awesome, bless him. How many 68-year-olds look good in leather pants, whatever the color? Cale does.

He went deep into his back catalog to bring us Hello There, and then a groundbreaking version of Heartbreak Hotel that I hope someone recorded for posterity. God knows how many interpretations of Elvis' hit Cale has done over the year - Hell, I posted 5 different ones in these very pages - but the one he gave last night was breathtaking, experimental in an electronic way (Cale used a vocoder!), but with the heart and soul brought by his band. Probably the most awesome I've ever seen.
I can confirm what everyone says, Cale's musicians are amazing, especially his drummer Michael Jerome (whom you can see later this Fall at Royce Hall again because he's also Richard Thompson's drummer) and his guitarist Dustin Boyer.
If Cale really goes back to the studio soon to bring us a new record, I have fervent wishes he will continue in the vein he's been exploring with that cover of Heartbreak Hotel, definitively the most amazing song he's done last night.

It was followed by Ghost Story with Mark Lanegan on vocals, introduced by Cale as "my friend Mark Lanegan", it was OK, but nothing to write home about, thankfully followed by a very good Ship Of Fool with his other friend Ben Gibbard, who went on to sing Gideon's Bible, the surprise of the evening for me. No Buffalo Ballet, alas. After that, Cale told us "this song has been written by Nico" and he and Lanegan went on with a beautiful rendition of Win A Few.
Lanegan then left and Cale gave us his new, unreleased songs Catastrophic (which I find meh, hey, even geniuses can have a bad day) and then Whaddya Mean, really nice in fact.

The orchestra came back a couple of songs later to help out with a majestic Hedda Gabbler that sounded miles ahead from the album version, and then we had the privilege of getting 2 encores, a kick-ass medley of Gun and Pablo Picasso which should make any indie band that sprouted during the last 3 decades more than envious, proving that at 68 Cale is much younger and creative than whatever crap has come out of Williamsburg via the Midwest (people do *really* listen to The National?).
Jerome and Boyer particularly shone during that part, and Cale was being, you know, pure raw energy and talent.

The second encore was a magical conclusion for the night, with Lanegan, Gibbard and Cale singing Chorale, from the Sabotage/Live album, with a capella parts, that send shivers down our spine and made yours truly a bit teary-eyed.
Pure beauty, indeed.
Cale left with a vague "see you soon", and that was all, and from now on our lives will be as shitty as they ever were until Mr. Cale has the grace to issue a new album and go on tour again (hint, hint).

Thank you Mr. Cale and band, thank you Mr. Randy Woolf for the orchestral arrangements, and thank you the UCLA Philarmonia.

This concludes  The John Cale Song Of The Week Series, otherwise known as The Year When FBC! Went Batshit Crazy Over John Cale's Music.

Next week, back to normal with art crap and all that, meanwhile have a nice weekend ya all, and regret bitterly if you haven't attended the concert yesterday, you missed something historical and beautiful.

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