John Cale, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Though he has never enjoyed the sales or the notoriety of his erstwhile bandmate Lou Reed, John Cale has been one of the most inventive musicians of the past four decades. His recent album, Hobo Sapiens, is his first full-length solo effort for seven years, and finds Cale delving fruitfully into digital production and treating his music to a fresh coat of electronica. This new sonic dawn is accompanied by a lean and healthy-looking Cale, who looks determined to teach the new millennium a few tricks.

With his discreet but expert three-piece band, Cale sped through this performance with the minimum of fuss (he barely managed to mumble "thank you" at the end) while cramming in the maximum number of songs. There was a sprinkling of the new material, including the ominous and panoramic Caravan, and his tribute to Warren Zevon, Things. But Caleophiles of long standing will have been delighted by his excursions around his bottomless back catalogue.

From Nico's album The Marble Index, he plucked the pungently evocative Frozen Warnings, judiciously tweaked with electro-jitter. Cable Hogue, a Cale-isation of the outlaw ballad genre, was dusted down from his own Helen of Troy, while Fear yielded the piano-pounding title track and the deranged swamp-blues of Gun. To howls of approval, he picked up his electric viola and unleashed the whips-and-handcuffs perv-o-rama of Venus in Furs.

Cale can write taut, vivid songs as well as anybody, but glimpses of his background in experimental music are never far away - maybe in a cunning delayed-action time signature, or a newly digitised nod to process music. Leaving It All Up to You could be merely a rock song, but Cale transforms it into stylish art-metal. And on top of all that, he's a master of the baleful ballad, where his rolling Welsh sonorities can take flight around his rich, often troubling images. The Chinese Envoy sounded like a petrified glass palace, an effect heightened by oriental chimes, and Cale drew proceedings to a close with an exquisitely weary I Keep a Close Watch. A master at work.


Adam Sweeting

The GuardianTramp

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