Monday, January 21, 2013

John Cale: rocker, classicist, smoothie

In the words of Neil Young, John Cale walks like a giant on the land. For me, Saturday night's show at BAM, during which Cale played his classic 1972 album Paris 1919 in its entirety with a small but impressive orchestra--plus a bitchin' rock band--established him as an art rock colossus. Who can marry the classical and rock worlds as well as Cale? And who can overlay both with sensitive, literate lyrics? Plus, more than 40 years after Paris 1919 came out, Cale's voice is undiminished. Same thing with Patti Smith, whom I heard opening for Neil late last year: "Gloria" was glorious in 1976 and in 2012.

It struck me during the show that Cale is an artist who's willing to put forth ideas that may be distasteful and outré. That vocoder he sang through during one song? It sounded too buzzy. His hair? In recent press photos, it's partially pink. And how about the title of his new album, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood? "Nookie"? Who, other than rap-metal historians, uses this word in 2013? Fashionable or not though, Cale is often sublime. Paris 1919, if you haven't heard it, is a quiet masterpiece, and 1970's Vintage Violence and 75's Slow Dazzle are great and good records, respectively. When the artist strapped on a red and white Fender to play the new album's title track, the song took about 90 seconds to shift from a dull rumble into a varicolored, metal mosaic. Who uses "nookie" in 2013? The mighty John Cale does. I wouldn't laugh at him.