Rychard Carrington reports on John Cale - The Junction, Cambridge, 10 October 2012

John Cale
Junction 1, The

John Cale, now seventy, seemed something of an inscrutable old master even when he was young. One has never known quite what he is about, where he is coming from or where he is going to, yet he has always seemed wise,and, somehow, for all the sense of brooding darkness, constrained mania and even the proximity of artistic violence, trustworthy (although he did once bite the head off a chicken, albeit a dead one).


Tonight his talking was in fact minimal - just the names of the songs and a few 'thank you's (still that's more than you usually get from Lou Reed or, for that matter, Bob Dylan) - yet we felt acknowldeged, the audience-artist empathy seemed good. Cale played for about an hour and forty minutes with an electic guitarist, bass guitarist and drummer, each of whom had beards (and indeed Cale himself sported a small goatee). They were very tight, at first sounding like a prog band, but later more in the grunge vein. In fact they could have made a good power trio: Dustin Boyar could clearly be an impressive post-Hendrix-style axeman, although here he was placed towards the back of the stage, with gratuitous instrumental flourishes off the menu.


Cale's songs, usually featuring repetitive refrains and lyrically oscure verses, are often both taut and lilting: tonight it was the taut aspects that were most prominent, with a solid rock feel being maintained throughout (a tad more variety wouldn't have gone amiss, methinks). Many of the songs were from Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood, released only last week. No hint of Cale mellowing, let alone declinning, in his eighth decade. Predictably the three songs from the 1970s were highlights - Guts, Helen Of Troy and the encore Dirty-Ass Rock'n'Roll. Dirty-ass isn't the word for Cale at all. Upmarket rock'n'roll? Leftfield rock'n'roll? Understatedly idiosyncatic rock'n'roll? We've come a long way from Rock Around The Clock, haven't we?


Writer: Rychard Carrington