I mean, John Cale is 68(!) and he’s got fluoro pink dye in his hair; plus, he’s actually got hair.


The concert (because Josh asked)

My country friend Josh asked how I liked the John Cale concert. This was last Saturday as part of the Melbourne Festival. I’d been lured there by a fan in Ballarat (g’day, Greg!) who said that Cale was going to recreate the whole Paris 1919 album con orchestra. (And then Greg sold me the CD. Nice move.) The 37-year-old album is sonically gorgeous if often textually improbable:

The cattle graze bold uprightly / Seducing down the door (Child’s Christmas in Wales)

You’re having tea with Graham Greene / In a colored costume of your choice (Graham Green)

There’s a law for everything / And for Elephants that sing to keep / The cows that agriculture won’t allow (Hanky Panky Nohow)

But I do have favourite lyric moments: ‘You’re a ghost la la la / You’re a ghost / I’m the bishop and I’ve come / To claim you with my iron drum’ (I love the jaunty insult by the first-person bishop with his intriguing iron drum.) Or, the lucid line: ‘Nothing frightens me more / Than religion at my door.’

The second encore

Anyway, I don’t want to talk about the first half, which has been nicely described by Mark Holdsworth on his blog, (hello, Mark). Mark obviously enjoyed it while I found the whole album recreation thing a shade pointless. (Or as Cale sings from that album: ‘maids of honor singing crying singing tediously’). Plus, he stood behind the keyboard and sheet music stand the whole time, pounding away, without any frivolous chitchat or giving us album notes, so to speak. At intermission I bumped into Greg of Ballarat and suggested that it was just like the record, only louder. Sensibly, trickily, Cale rearranged the sequence to place the only rock song on the album, Macbeth, at the end of that set as a segue to the next half.

2nd half: He’s stiff, moves like an escapee from Toy Story, but you’d never know from his voice. And there were quite a few shouts of, ‘John, you’re still sexy!’ As a performer he doesn’t have “soul,” but as Josh points out he’s got “passion.” The second half was just fine, see the undercover review: ‘suddenly the show took on a whole new dynamic.’

For his first encore, we got a long (10 min), very loud and rambunctious Pablo Picasso, with its sensitive chorus: ‘Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole.’ Then Cale very generously gave us a second. I was concerned really. All evening the old rocker had been singing full pelt, not holding back. But out he came and delivered a deep, expansive Chorale with its gospel inflections. Here’s the bootleg — it has a shaky start and Cale is just a column of light, but this is the way to sing a crowd its lullaby:

Hold me down, hold me down
To the light in your room hold me down
Where the windows are broken around
And erosion of living is done
If your life is all broken and empty
Like the streets of New York in the dark
And you need just a friend to hold on to
I’ll be there in the corner just for you

And the cold of the living
And the cold of the dead
Hand in hand from the beginning to the end
And the cold of the living
And the cold of the dead
Hand in hand from the beginning to the end

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