Words + Photos by Bobby Talamine
Elder Statesman. Avant- garde poet. Professor of all things experimental. Sonic architect of one of the greatest rock bands of all time The Velvet Underground.
I could go on and on with the accolades about John Cale, but then, he'd say to me- "Get to the point already."
John Cale is not so easy to pigeonhole when performing live. At this late stage in the game, at the age of 77, he sparingly chooses events in which to perform. So The Art Institute of Chicago was the lucky recipient to have John Cale perform at the beautiful and classy Rubloff Auditorium, on the last day of the Andy Warhol exhibit, to a packed house.
A riveting and compelling performance, John flanked by a band that follows suit to his tastes. With a guitarist who slashes and burns notes like a keyboard, a drummer who's left hand the entire night of the show played sampled keyboard beats, and a bassist who brought the low end and turned his electric bass into a cello of sorts by striking a violin bow on the strings. This stellar band was of course rounded off by John himself, trading off between electric guitar and also electric keyboards.
And then of course, his voice--frail and strained at times, but not punishing or out of tune. Strained in such a way to convey the emotion, or novelty depending on his mood, on a certain lyric or phrase.
Having witnessed artists of similar stature who repel at playing the same song twice (Bob Dylan comes to mind)- it's refreshing in this day and age to see an elder statesman of John's stature still taking risks, and digging deep into a catalog of music that can easily go all over the map.
Such an extraordinary setlist, opening with "Helen of Troy" on electric guitar, and then into "Dying on the Vine" on keyboards.
From the first song to the encore of "Emily," you could hear a pin drop through the auditorium.
But works from the Velvet Underground, The Andy Warhol exhibit, the inevitable and extraordinary turn later in the setlist with the Velvet's "I'm Waiting for the Man", let alone the John Cale / Lou Reed song "Style it Takes", and of course "Gun / Pablo Picasso."
I could easily go on and on, but simply put, the stars aligned to make for a perfect Sunday evening, and witness an extraordinary performance with one of rock and roll's, one of avant- garde and art rocks true pioneers- John Cale.
John Cale, his solo work, The Velvet Underground and their ultra cool album covers designed by Andy Warhol, is still one of rock's hippest names to drop in any conversation and influencers.
It's definitely a conversation ender, considering- "How do you top this?"
Not many artists I can think of amongst the living can you compare him to.
And yet he's still questioning and experimenting with everything, even his band, mid song on whatever song, turning away from his keyboard on occasion to give cues, or to unleash the hounds at a moment's notice.
Stylistically diverse and creating challenging music up to the present day- that encompasses John Cale.
Still boggles the mind 24 hours later, John Cale performed at The Rubloff Auditorium at the Art Institute of Chicago in conjunction with Andy Warhol. Again- how cool is this?