John Cale, Royal Festival Hall, London

4.00

Sprightly Cale still sparkles

As pop's usual revenue streams grow increasingly parched, more and more bands of a certain vintage are choosing the heritage option of performing one of their classic albums in its entirety. Last week it was John Cale's turn to follow the likes of Brian Wilson and Arthur Lee into the Royal Festival Hall, accompanied by a phalanx of musicians well-drilled in the subtleties of his landmark work.

Given that Cale was a founder member of the Velvet Underground, there were more than a few classic albums in contention, but 1973's sublime symphonic-rock opus Paris 1919 was the correct choice. It remains his most approachable work, although behind the beautiful melodies, cosseting strings and literary references lurks a haunted landscape of post-colonial decline stretching from Sebastopol to Andalucia, the Transvaal to Antarctica, in which field marshals, fading movie queens, civil servants, weary soldiers, expats and Enoch Powell slowly play out the inevitable endgames. Originally recorded with the UCLA Symphony Orchestra and members of the legendary swamp-funk combo Little Feat, it offered the classically trained Cale free rein to indulge his orchestral ambitions within a pop context.

Though fast nudging 70 years old, an astonishingly youthful-looking and dapper Cale stood throughout at his keyboard, small hand gestures signalling to his bassist, drummer and guitarist whilst a conductor alongside controlled the strings and horns of the Heritage Orchestra. These lent a certain belle époque grace to "The Endless Plain of Fortune", with the burring bottom end provided by the two bowed double basses, adding the undertow of menace, melancholy and nostalgia essential to the song's effectiveness.

The arrangement of "Andalucia", one of Cale's simplest and most affecting songs, didn't have quite the gossamer delicacy of the album version, but "Paris 1919" itself was a triumph, the prancing quadruplets bounding along with minimalist energy, evocative of the song's courtiers and cardinals jockeying for political position in the postwar world. Likewise, "Graham Greene" – whose stilted reggae gait seemed in 1973 a curious ethnic novelty – was delightfully delivered, stippled with pizzicato violins and further expanded by the addition of a trombone solo. "Half Past France" and "Antarctica Starts Here" then led proceedings gracefully to the climax of a re-positioned "Macbeth", which slightly lacked the careering momentum of the album version.

"Fear", meanwhile, tacked between sombre and manic in a way which became Cale's trademark during his Seventies solo heyday, its trenchant claim that "life and death are just things you do when you're bored" perhaps suggesting why the composer seems to have aged so little over the decades. As a constantly creative spirit, he seems immune to the boredom which might allow death to steal a march on his physical self.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup