It is always very impressive when you are about to see a concert from an artist that you really respect. There is this excitement, in the days before the show, that you want to tone down so you are not disappointed if it isn’t brilliant (hello, The Residents!). I am a great Velvet Underground fan. Lou Reed was my musical god. I saw him play live in Montreal the rare times he was here, in 1992 (brilliant Magic and Loss tour) and 2007 (with John Zorn and Laurie Anderson).

I haven’t followed John Cale‘s solo career as closely, but admire how he kept focusing on experimenting ideas and concepts throughout the last 40 years. I don’t know if Cale ever played in Montreal – the Velvets never played here for sure – it might have been a long time ago if so.

My favourite album ever is the sole collaboration Reed and Cale made after the first fired the second from the band. In 1990, they honoured their friend and early mentor Andy Warhol, with the beautiful and intelligent “Songs for Drella”. Seeing two artists work together with all their artistic differences (and hate of each other), was also worth while.

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Now I’m sitting in the beautiful Rialto Theatre, waiting for the man to come on stage and blow our minds. Of course he will do songs from the Velvet. How could he not? His participation in the first two albums of the most influential band was a key moment in the History of Rock (read more on his role here).

The show started right on time and the 74 year-old Welsh sharply dressed in a checkered vest, black t-shirt, silver-white hair delivered solid songs from his vast repertoire. I was impressed by the power of his voice. The show opened with Hedda Gabler, and explored various parts of his 15-album career, from Hanky Panky Nohow (from “Paris 1919” in 1973), I Keep a Close Watch (from “Helen of Troy” in 1975) to Wasteland (from “Black Acetate”) and I Wanna Talk 2 U (not my favourite of the show) from his latest album of original material, “Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood” from 2012, ending with a strong (and long) rendition of Fear is a Man’s Best Friend which ended on a high rock’n’roll note.

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He deconstructed Style It Takes (from “Songs for Drella”) and revisited Waiting for The Man and Sunday Morning, from The Velvets, both in fashion that he really seemed to enjoy, not just to please the crowd. There you go for “the hits”.

Cale was supported by a strong band which had a loft of freedom to play around: Dustin Boyer (lead guitar, samples) never stopped using various effects and techniques to produce sounds while very melodic (and sometimes even groovy) Joey Maramba was on the bass. Deantoni Parks went from acoustic to electronic drums all evening long.

The strangest crowd

I couldn’t help but observe the crowd once in a while. It was probably one of the most bizarre blend of people that I have ever seen at a show. Old guys, obviously, that have been Velvet fans for ages, that were also not a homogeneous group. Some had artsy looks : very long white beard, funky hat, some were really straight as they were coming right out of the office, all of them wearing big black glasses. Most were very serious about listening John Cale, some were giving him standing ovation at every song. A bit in a “I’m the only guy who knows and appreciates this song” attitude. Then there were very young kids – in their late teens, maybe – that were stoned out of their minds, who were kind of “space dancing” in front of the stage. One had a blonde wig, another a cowboy hat, the third was nerdier. One girl was dancing energetically as it was Madonna singing her greatest hits, an older woman was constantly waving, really saying, “Look at me, John!” A couple of the most serious ones left – for a smoke? – when Cale stayed glued to “who oh ho’s” for over 5 minutes, waving his arm to crowd, inviting everybody to sing along. At one point, one of the “serious” men gently pushed one of the stoned kids towards the stage so he could see Cale while still sitting. The kid didn’t get the message, looked around, and continued to tangle in front of the stage.

Wow, that was a curious blend of people…

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Cale himself seemed to have many different personalities. On some songs he was intense and deeply concentrating on his lyrics, completely submerged in heavy industrial noise, while on others, he seemed to take a lighter note and enjoy himself while repeating the same word over and over.

John Cale walked away, thanking the Montreal crowd, visibly touched by the warm response he had received from this special gang of people, who, at the end, all appreciated his performance.

I recommend Cale’s interview with Jordan Zivitz from the Montreal Gazette, here, for further reading on Cale’s work.

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JOHN CALE was playing at The Rialto during Pop Montreal, September 22nd, 2016

Read other reviews from Pop Montreal, here.

Photos by Nico Pelletier, for RREVERB, all rights reserved, except where noted.

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About The Author

Nicolas Pelletier

Mélomane invétéré et rédacteur agréé, Nicolas pratique la critique en mode olympique: il parle de tout, tout le temps, depuis 1991. Il a publié 6 000 critiques de disques et concerts dont 1100 chez emoragei magazine et 600 sur enMusique.ca, dont il a également été le rédacteur-en-chef de 2009 à 2014. Il publie “Les perles rares et grands crus de la musique” en 2013, et devient stratège numérique des radios de Bell Média en 2015, participant au lancement de la marque iHeartRadio au Canada en 2016.