John Cale, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Delivering a concert of about two dozen songs, and without either support band or interval, Cale and his youthful group took control of the night from the off, the leader dressed for work in dark Aertex shirt and weatherbeaten jeans. In the first half dozen tunes, he'd moved from electric viola to two different electric guitars and a formidable bank of keyboards, his versatility as ever used not to dazzle but to provide different contexts for his acerbic lyrics. He didn't bother announcing his old stuff, but "Helen of Troy" and "Guts" got piledriving workouts in between new material.

One of the great pleasures of listening to Cale in the studio has always been his distinctive baritone allied to perfect diction, and it was astonishing just how much of that vocal quality came through live. It focused the mind on the fact that, although Cale had a well-rehearsed and resourceful band with him, it was the leader whose charisma and sheer musical ability demanded attention.

Cale's characteristic balance of such elements as brute force, mania, delicacy, sentiment and wild imagination continued to be struck as the group moved through his back catalogue, with tunes such as "China Sea", "Magritte" and "Dirty-Ass Rock & Roll" given much rougher treatment than in the studio. Even a gentle ballad such as "Ship of Fools" was stripped of its fanciful studio filigrees and given a sharp cutting edge.

All through this Cale was received with a mixture of expectation and wild enthusiasm by a crowd whose only frustration was that there was nowhere to get up and dance. Cale's invitation to the crowd to come down front and dance was accepted with alacrity, but gig security initially forced people back to their seats.

By the end, a uneasy compromise was reached whereby the front-of-stage area was flooded by fans and everyone else in the place stood to cheer on their man. QEH rocks? It does when John Cale plays it.

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