Tuesday, 30 May 2017

John Cale

May 26th 2017

Liverpool Waters Clarence Dock

I dithered and swithered over this one, knowing beforehand it would in some way inevitably disappoint; that first Velvet Underground album having played such a huge part in my musical life.  By the time I decided to attend, the Sold Out signs were up, but I succeeded in sourcing a ticket via the generally unreliable Gumtree.  As I stood outside St Stephens Church in Stockbridge where I had chosen to meet the seller, it occurred to me I was quite literally Waiting For the Man.
When the chap pitched up, I quipped: “I feel I should be standing here with twenty-six dollars in my hand” - which I thought rather witty.  His weak smile told me he either felt the joke just too obvious, or didn't catch the reference and probably thought me a bit of an oddbod.  Oh well.

The gig was to take place at the oddly named Liverpool Waters Clarence Dock which turned out to be some post-industrial rubble-strewn moonscape, where a medium sized mobile stage had been erected and surrounded by the usual camp followers of understaffed beer-tents and fast-food money-traps.  Oh, there was also an ice cream van.

This cordoned-off section was some sort of VIP area - into which the
well-heeled and well-scrubbed were herded just before the gig started.
Lou, had he been around would, I am sure, have had no truck with such favouritism.

Liverpool Waters Clarence Dock.

Welcome to the Wastelands

With the gig time stated on my ticket as 8PM, I decided to arrive an hour early in order to stake a claim to a spot near to the front.  Not too long to wait, really.

At 7:30PM an endearingly dishevelled-looking chap ambled onstage with an acoustic guitar and presented us with half-a-dozen or so of his self-penned tunes.  Marvin Powell, he introduced himself, and he was entertaining enough.  He could chant just fine I felt, and his guitar picking was really rather impressive, but his songs just appeared to lack any memorable hooks, and I can recall next to nothing of them now.  I could, however, have listened to him play guitar all evening.  He finished his set around eight, and “Not long now” we thought. 

Marvin Powell

Marvin Powell

Folks Waiting For The Man, with varying degrees of fortitude.
Is that Julian Assange I see in there?

But eight came and went, as did eight thirty and then nine o'clock – with the interminable roadies' cabaret just dribbling on and on.  I was getting more than a little pissed-off by this time: two-and-a-half fucking hours I had been on my aching feet waiting for JC to deign to appear.  Obviously, he was just doing the waiting-for-dark thing.  He, or someone, had clearly forked out a not inconsiderable sum for the lighting rig and the brace of stage-side large screens, and were going to ensure they got their money's worth.

At twenty-five to ten! the musicians finally put in an appearance, and I was already mentally penning my damning review.  And then Cale set up that hammering piano intro to I'm Waiting For the Man, and all was forgiven.  For it was just bloody wonderful, the band of Young Turks capturing the raw power of the original perfectly.  As if that was not enough, just as the song wound to a close, Cale laid down a further trump card by effortlessly shashaying into White Light/White Heat.  I do not believe I could possibly think of a better way to start any gig.

I had noted an object thrown onto the stage during the opening song, then another....followed by a third and fourth.  I finally realised they were bananas!  OK – a not particularly subtle homage to the album cover perhaps, but it represented a sharp lesson in the importance of context.  For I did wonder what the coloured drummer would have thought had bananas been lobbed onstage at him during any other gig. 

I did see a lot of bananas - many flying through the air, others being snapped with JC as a backdrop.

John Cale and The Kills' Alison Mosshart performing White Light/White Heat

All Tomorrow's Parties was next, and we were (or at least I was) introduced to the irritating little nyaff that is Lias Kaci Saoudi – vocalist with the London band Fat White Family, in his day job.  All inevitable shades and cocksure attitude (“I am the real star of this show, and don’t ever forget it”, he appeared to be thinking) – he also sported one of those faces one could never tire of slapping.  But I could forgive him these flaws - what was unforgivable was his screaming, screeching take on the vocal to this one.  

This was the first jolted reminder that what was being presented here was “The Velvet Underground & Nico” album Re-imagined.  Cale could, I suppose, have brought in a clutch of seasoned musos, who would have recreated the album note for note, but had not.  Instead he had pulled in a disparate bunch of decidedly vernal pups and pupesses.  For Better or Worse.

That being said, most of the Re-imaginings worked I have to say.  Venus in Furs benefited from what looked like a string octet, playing alongside Cale as he sang and sawed away at his viola.   There was pleasing calypso feel to There She Goes Again, and even European Son opened with what sounded suspiciously like some Euro-disco beat intro, before the chaos intervened.

Cale actually sang on surprisingly few of the songs, and we witnessed a procession of vocalists coming and going, which did lend proceedings a slight karaoke feel at times.  Best of the lot, in my opinion, was Gothic-Jazz (I made up that genre) chanteuse Nadine Shah,  whose performance on Femme Fatale was a delight.   And I was disappointed we did not get to see and hear more of her.

JC during Venus in Furs.

Nadine Shah perfoming Femme Fatale


Alison Mosshart

The Kills (Allison Mosshart and the former Mr Kate Moss, James Hence) helped out on White Light/White Heat, as well as providing another of the highlights with their rendition of Sunday Morning.  The heartbreakingly youthful images of Lou and Nico on the big screens during this one had even this old cynic doing the welling-up thing.

Super Furry Animals’ singer Gruff Rhys was drafted in for a couple of performances, but he must I am sure, have thought he had drawn the short straw on both occasions.  For he first had to intone – read, really – Lou Reed's gibberish poem The Black Angel's Death Song before being compelled to skulk around in a white coat and stethescope during Lady Godiva's Operation.  He stomped offstage after both his appearances with barely a backward glance, and I thought it significant he failed to turn up for the show-closing bunfight (of more anon).

Clinic's rendition of Run, Run, Run was pretty darned impressive, though.

But with Heroin we saw the return of Lias Kaci Saoudi; and he began his performance by first gobbing onto the stage, before spending most of the song grappling with his crotch, clearly trying to work out where the hell his cock had gone.  His vocal interpretation here was passable I suppose, but again his histrionics just irked.

The power of Heroin (ermm, the song not the stimulant), particularly on the Live 1969 album, lies in the pathos of Reed's world-weary delivery (witness his matter-of-fact “Its my wife, and it’s my life” line), allied to Sterling Morrison’s beautifully understated guitar.  Cale, by contrast, appeared content to let the youngsters thrash the thing to death.  

But for all that, I felt it would have been a good way to end the show…particularly if Cale had then invited Moe Tucker on stage for an encore of Temptation Inside Your Heart, say.

But instead we got a soul-sapping 22 minute Sister Ray tsunami.  

What this song on the White Light/White Heat album represents is a unique captured moment in time: four young musicians pushing back the boundaries of rock'n'roll.  Nothing like it had been done before, although, tellingly, it has been done a zillion times since.

To attempt to recreate – or even re-imagine - the thing, misses the point completely, in my opinion.

Cale's rendition this evening was moderately entertaining for its curiosity value for about three minutes......after which it swiftly outstayed it's welcome.  Gruff Rhys clearly decided to have nothing to do with the nonsense and wisely stayed off stage, although everyone else was dragged in.  Allison Mosshart soon lost interest, and ended up squatting down off-stage, occasionally rousing herself to squawk into the mike.  Even twat-in-residence Saoudi appreciated the utter pointlessness of the whole sorry episode by comically taking an exaggerated look at his watch mid-way through.

This sort of self-indulgent dross was the very thing punk was designed to put an end to.  There was more relief than anything else in the desultory applause which met the conclusion of the ordeal, and little real enthusiasm for an encore, as folks swiftly began drifting off.

For by then I think we realised we were not going to see who we all wanted to: Moe.

John Cale - Liverpool 2017


I'm Waiting For the Man / White Light/White Heat
All Tomorrow's Parties
Venus in Furs
I'll be Your Mirror
Run, Run, Run
The Black Angel's Death Song
Femme Fatale
There She Goes Again
Lady Godiva's Operation
European Son
Sunday Morning
Sister Ray

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