The expectations are always a little different when you go see a musician who is potentially past his/her prime. John Cale has been playing for over thirty years, and as a seminal member of the Velvet Underground and a striking solo artist since the 70s, there is an incredible amount of material he can pull from -- it was really hard to know what to expect. He sounds good. Cale’s voice has gotten better, more grave and powerful with age, and is even better live than it sounds on his latest effort Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood (out on Double Six).
Cass McCombs was an interesting pick for the opener, but it made even more sense after seeing the way their sets played off of each other. McCombs’ songwriting is so good in and of itself that all of the sensationalism needed for a live performance is inherent. His simple three-piece provided the perfect amount of support for a venue the size of the Showbox. In a great nine-song set, he started with some of his more subdued numbers (Equinox, County Line) and after a few songs, a violin player joined him, and by the time he was playing “Robin Egg Blue” they were cutting loose, and the large amount of Cass McCombs fans in the crowd made themselves known (some even left after he finished playing).
John Cale, in contrast, full-on rocked out right from the beginning. It was nothing if not a sensationalist performance -- my ears rang the rest of the night. Dusty never let up on the face-melting guitar, and about four songs into the set I remember thinking, John Cale is playing the best stoner rock show I’ve ever seen. Most of the songs were off Nookie Wood, and the very-LA backing band pummeled the audience with a relentless rhythm attack. But wow -- when Cale picked up the acoustic (I think just that one time) and played “You Know More Than I Know” right at the height of the set, followed by Helen of Troy...I imagine there were plenty there hoping to hear anything, just a song, off of Fear or Paris 1919 and this treat right at the apex of the set reminded the audience of the scope of the man’s career -- that was when the show went from being “just-another-show” to the kind of “I am in the same room as John Cale” experience that many were certainly looking for. But that treat notwithstanding, Cale, it seems, won’t let any kind of nostalgia or staleness get the best of him, and the show was also just a great concert from an LA based musician, one who has collaborated with Danger Mouse and released an album this year.
The smallish crowd packed the floor by the end, and after the Welshman left the stage we clapped for what felt like ten minutes before finally being rewarded with a blown-out 15-minute rendition of “Gun” which merged into Cale’s cover of Johnathan Richman’s “Pablo Picasso” for the encore. “Good night Seattle,” Cale said as he left, waving, “We’ll see you soon.”
More photos by Alex Crick: