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John Cale - Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 6/2/2023

  by Paul Kimber

published: 26 / 4 / 2023

John Cale - Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 6/2/2023

The word ‘legend’ is an overused superlative, but not when talking about one of the founders of The Velvet Underground, the most influential underground rock and roll band of its age. Whilst everyone associates the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed, as the band's front man, singer and main songwriter, it is easy to overlook the band's bass and viola player (as well as a range of other instruments), John Cale. I discovered and devoured The Velvet Underground during my teenage years, and still have a battered vinyl copy of the iconic Velvets’ debut album with the banana on the cover, designed by the band's artistic collaborator Andy Warhol. The Velvets were underground, their songs dealing with at the time taboo subjects. They pushed all the boundaries and were a generation ahead of their time. John Cale was integral to the zeitgeist that the Velvets set into motion. But that was in the 1960s. Having not toured for nearly 10 years and being 80 years old, John Cale is back out on tour, and playing a punishing schedule of dates and venues in England and Europe. I was lucky enough to see him at Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall on Monday 6th February 2023, a very cold winter's evening. John Cale lives in New York, and has produced a massive body of work since the Velvets split up, both as a writer, a musician and a producer. The fact that he still wants to travel the world to play music live is a testament to his passion as a performer, a musical maestro, who still wishes even now to continue to push the musical boundaries. John Cale looks like Paul Weller's cool father, and I mean that in the kindest, most respectful sense. He's one of the coolest looking rock stars around. Born in Wales, his six decades in the business reminds me of Tom Jones, not in musical style, but in passion and longevity, Perhaps there is something about being Welsh that produces musicians with great voices and unbelievable longevity. At the Liverpool gig John was supported by South African singer songwriter Manu Grace. She sang and played bass guitar with a DAT tape producing a modern unusual sound, with a voice reminiscent of Tori Amos and off set drum patterns, was a perfect warm up. Her saying in surreal disbelief that "sharing the stage with John Cale was the silliest thing that had ever happened to me" was a reminder of John Cale's legendary and deserved reputation. John played with a tight and talented four piece band, (drummer, bass player and guitarist). He stood for the entire set behind a massive synthesiser keyboard with a laptop, dressed in all in denim, befitting of a rock star, I was surprised at the quality of his voice. Deep, rich and slightly gravelly, like fine wine it has aged well, improving with time rather than fading. The Liverpool Philharmonic was a stunning venue. A beautiful space with excellent acoustics. Even the seats were comfortable. John played a selection of tracks from his formidable back catalogue, (19 solo studio albums) as well as five tracks from his latest album, ‘Mercy’, just released in January 2023. His latest work has an electronic feel to it, but is still guitar driven, and sounds modern and edgy. There was a huge screen showing artistic animation and slightly trippy images, adding to the overall experience. Despite not being a typical front man, jumping around the stage and causing mayhem, I found it hard to take my eyes off John Cale when he was on stage. He has a presence that is understated but pervasive and hard to put your finger on. It may just be because he was part of the Velvet Undergound, but I think that is a disservice to the great man, as for the fifty years or so since the Velvets split up John Cale has continued making music that borders on the experimental, always changing, but ultimately is still melodic and is very listenable, which is a hard balance to achieve. Like John Cale's support act, I found being in the same room as him silly, surreal, but amazing. I'm so pleased I got to see him. If you get the chance, you won't be disappointed. Photos by Andrew Twambley www.twambley.com

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John Cale - Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 6/2/2023

John Cale - Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 6/2/2023

John Cale - Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 6/2/2023

John Cale - Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 6/2/2023

John Cale - Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 6/2/2023

John Cale - Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 6/2/2023

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With photos by Andrew Twambley, Paul Kimber finds John Cale still breaking boundaries at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool.

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