Review: John Cale presents The Velvet Underground and Nico, at Liverpool Sound City (26th May 2017)

30 May

Velvets John Cale

Of all the revered groups of the ‘60s, none probably deserve the accolade of most influential group like The Velvet Underground. An east coast contrast to the (superficially) loved up Summer of Love, mainly concentrated on the sunny west coast, The Velvets were a very uncommercial consideration in 1967. But, years later, Brian Eno famously quipped that although their debut album had only sold 30, 000 copies, every one of those people formed their own band.

Fast forward fifty years, and the band’s most famous and successful member is no longer with us. Lou Reed’s death, and that of Sterling Morrison and chanteuse Nico, leaves only founding member John Cale and drummer Mo Tucker. Not one to get overly nostalgic, Cale felt an overwhelming urge to pay recognition to The Velvet’s legacy and fans by celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of The Velvet Underground and Nico, which leads us to this first of two celebratory concerts (the second to take place, quite naturally, in New York).

My first reaction to the music was how strange it was to hear it at what was essentially a stadium gig. The album’s dark and insular themes are perhaps best suited to a more intimate environment, most likely an indoor one, so hearing The Velvet’s music in a stadium setting was a surprise to the senses, but not a completely unwelcome or unsuccessful one.

Cale

 

Taking place on the first night of Liverpool’s annual Sound City urban festival, Cale’s performance took place in a post-industrial wasteland not entirely in tune with The Velvet’s nilisitic and bleak New York origins, but not entirely at odds with it either. The dead pan cool of the band’s hey day was reinforced through a selection of images projected onto the huge screens at either side of the stage. What didn’t serve the music as well were a less than dominant sound system and a rosta of supporting players who were of variable quality. Cale started proceedings with a decent performance of ‘Waiting for the man’, although he would struggle to replicate Reed’s scornful vocals throughout, but would return to the microphone at several points in the concert. In-between, however, appeared a mixture of the very good to the mediocre. The Kills’ Alison Mossheart in memorable leather clad rock chick glory, contrasted with my favourite Velvet’s song ‘All tomorrow’s Parties’ , unfortunately diluted by Lias Saoudi from The Fat White Family. Far better when Saoudi tackled the glorious cacophony that is ‘Heroin’, with a lot more verve, and Nadije Shah delivered a pleasing ‘Femme Fatale’. None of the album’s songs were played in original order, but mixed up with other Velvets tracks. I didn’t mind this; any pretence to presenting these songs as some first heard them in 1967 or actually on disc, was quickly abandoned. That was wise; rather than a note by note reproduction, this was more of a celebration of that music’s essence, in a setting unfamiliar to the ‘60s Factory crowd.

The concert ended with an epic version of ‘Sister Ray’, where the numerous guests appeared to surrender to the music and offer their best. Cale was present throughout, an obvious talent and occasionally eager to show off his viola skills. Cutting a stylish and relatively youthful looking figure, despite his white hair, Cale remains the only original Velvets band member to remain musically active. While this might not be his finest hour, it was still an engrossing presentation of a songbook that continues to influence and inspire. While Cale is not a man who usually looks back with obvious nostalgia, and despite any weaknesses in the presentation, I was very glad he had made an exception.

 

From Rolling Stone Magazine:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/john-cale-on-the-chaos-of-velvet-underground-w470828

John Cale will also perform The Velvet Underground and Nico with The Wordless Music Orchestra, at The Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City, on November 16th and 17th.

 

Photograph used with respect from Liverpool ECHO site.

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