John Cale, ABC, Glasgow

ABC, Glasgow

"This is a song about my favourite painter," announces John Cale. "Andy!" yells a cheeky voice in the crowd, meaning, of course, Warhol. "Nice try," quips Cale in return, fantastically deadpan.

The song in question is actually Magritte, which joins Pablo Picasso in the pantheon of Cale songs named for painters. It's one that probably only Cale could get away with. Magritte, a hushed, dreamlike song that suggests the feeling of tiptoeing through a gallery at night, considers the place of art in a society or under a regime that doesn't value it ("Somebody's coming that hates us"). You feel as though Cale's songs should be protected in their turn. No one has his ability to mix sentiment and discourse; to be dumb and intelligent; to sometimes playfully confuse the two. His art-rock often really rocks.

Cale is possessed of one of the great screams, as good as Little Richard's or that of the Pixies' Black Francis. It's there in The Ballad of Cable Hogue. It sears through the climax of a bruising Leaving It All Up to You, Cale's band scything away behind him. Best of all, it cauterises Cale's sublimely wounded, desperate cover of Heartbreak Hotel, which is an object lesson in how to cover a well-known song and make it your own.

There's something utterly magical about seeing this bluff Welsh bloke with the build of a rugby player sing a delicate ripple of a song such as Set Me Free, whose lovely, chiming chords recall the Velvet Underground's Sunday Morning. In Gravel Drive he seems improbably vulnerable, pleading: "Leave me a little of your smile." Undimmed, Cale remains cherishably unique.


David Peschek

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
John Cale, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Ian Gittens

04, Oct, 2005 @12:39 PM

John Cale, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Adam Sweeting

19, Dec, 2003 @2:12 AM

John Cale, Manchester University

Manchester University

Dave Simpson

28, Jun, 2003 @1:00 AM

Article image
John Cale, Hobosapiens


Dave Simpson

03, Oct, 2003 @2:05 AM

Article image
Patti Smith/John Cale, Royal Festival Hall, London

Royal Festival Hall, London

Adam Sweeting

27, Jun, 2005 @10:44 AM

Article image
CD: John Cale, Paris 1919


Dave Simpson

23, Jun, 2006 @5:10 PM

Article image
John Cale – Extra Playful: exclusive stream

Listen to the former Velvet Underground man's new EP

14, Sep, 2011 @1:00 PM

Article image
John Cale and the Heritage Orchestra | Pop review
Royal Festival Hall, London
The former Velvet Undergrounder brought his Paris 1919 album into the future in majestic style, writes Dorian Lynskey

Dorian Lynskey

07, Mar, 2010 @9:30 PM

Article image
John Cale: Thriving on the vine

Ed Vulliamy: For his musical tribute to Nico at the Festival Hall, John Cale took her songs and ripened them through years of musical experience

Ed Vulliamy

13, Oct, 2008 @4:22 PM

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.

By Alfred Hickling

21, Jan, 1999 @5:08 AM