LIVE: John Cale – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 26/08/2023

LIVE: John Cale – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 26/08/2023

Hello Edinburgh, nice to see you!’ John Cale’s positively beaming as he walks on stage at the city’s Festival Theatre. Now aged 81 and into a career that’s sixty years and counting, this legend still has a Welsh tinge to his accent. If it seems slightly odd, disrespectful even, that a man of his stature should not have sold out this concert, we are in for a a fantastic ninety minutes regardless.

Let’s get this out of the way first: yes, Cale was in the legendary Velvet Underground, without whom etc.. etc.. Tonight’s showspans fifty years of his solo career, and takes us up to the present day with this year’s Mercy album. He opens with his 2006 single ‘Jumbo In the Modern World‘ before eliciting a huge cheer as he launches into the title track of his 1973 album Paris 1919.

As with Alison Goldfrapp’s show the night before down the road, there are some fantastic audio visual elements to go along with the music. This is perhaps most effective during ‘Moonstruck (Nico’s Song)’ which references the chanteuse who he worked with several times (Cale worked as a producer with acts as diverse as her, Sham 69 and the Happy Mondays, not to mention seminal debut albums by Patti Smith and The Modern Lovers). While poetry and rock music are not unusual bedfellows, John Cale’s love of his fellow countryman was always something to celebrate – we don’t get ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales‘ but we do get ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.’

For most of this gig, Cale stays behind his keyboards, though he does pick up his guitar for a couple of songs such as ‘Helen Of Troy‘ – a reminder of why his work for Island Records in the first half of the seventies was so important with what happened in the latter half of that decade. He doesn’t put a foot wrong the whole performance, and it’s clear just why he is such a respected figure. Thankfully no chickens were slaughtered as part of this performance (look it up) and after brilliant versions of ‘Barracuda‘ and ‘Villa Albani‘ the house lights go up.

Yet the audience stand their ground and Cale and band walk back on and deliver a stunning version of ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’ The song, popularised by Elvis, was first recorded by Cale in the seventies – but what we have tonight is a total deconstruction. Moved far away from ‘50s American rock’n’roll to something seventies, European and bleak – if it were a film it would be Christiane F or The Night Porter. A stunning end to a concert that shows Cale deserves all the respect and more that has been afforded to him.

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