John Cale


It's a well-known fact that a 54-year-old man in leather trousers is not a sensible proposition. John Cale, however, was one quarter of the Velvet Underground, the band who invented leather trousers, so he might be forgiven his sartorial fancies. Besides, he looks great.

Once a taciturn beanpole Welshman sporting shades, viola and medieval haircut, Cale has aged gracefully into an avant garde intellectual with a prestigious back-catalogue of solo albums, virtually all of them now deleted.

Nor does he have a new record out to explain this rare, brief excursion round legitimate classical venues. He does have his autobiography, What's Welsh For Zen?, to plug, though at no point during his gig at Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall does he mention it.

But Cale's profile has long skulked around the dark, difficult margins of the enigmatic. An early disciple of La Monte Young who somehow got sidetracked into rock'n'roll and drug abuse, it has never been entirely clear what John Cale actually does of late.

Billed with serious jazz connotations, as the John Cale Trio, Cale and his accomplices hunch over a motley assortment of acoustic instruments, unleashing an angry, Welsh-intellectual vibe with the first of three Dylan Thomas settings. Suddenly, all becomes clear. It's the Manic Street Preachers, 40 years on.

Strangely, there is none of the vintage viola violence for which Cale is famed, nor does he shout at his piano or decapitate a chicken - both fabled incidents from Cale gigs of yore. The emphasis, rather, is on his plaintively rich, Welsh-valley baritone, keening through a resume of the best bits from those flawed albums you can no longer get. But it's the sheer presence of the man that carries the evening. A legend in his own trousers.


By Alfred Hickling

The GuardianTramp

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