In the same year that his one-time sparring partner Lou Reed released his bleakest opus in the form of Berlin, Cale had temporarily put down his trademark electrified viola and released what would become one of the lushest and most enduring solo records of his career.
Paris 1919 is a love letter to Europe of sorts. Penned in the then paranoid air of the west coast, it’s possibly the best thing to come out of the cold war era.
The title track of the album has been a highlight of his live set for some time now, but tonight [05 March] sees a rare opportunity to hear the work performed in full by his band who are flanked by a 20 piece orchestra.
Taking centre stage in suit jacket and somewhat avant-garde hair, Cale explained the evening’s order of events. The album would be performed in full first but seeing as it only clocks in at just over 30 minutes, we were also treated to a couple of numbers with just Cale and the band before the orchestra returned for the final run.
The opener, Child’s Christmas in Wales, started a little on the quiet side. Maybe I always have my stereo set too loud but there wasn't the initial punch that usually gets the song started. Once it got underway, the sound quickly settled in the set took due care to remain true to the recorded work, barely leaving a gap for the audience to show their appreciation.
"Paris 1919 is a love letter to Europe of sorts."
The more raucous Macbeth was used to tail end the album allowing a perfect rendition of Andalucia to move straight into the title track. Although not as bombastic as some of the performance clips found on youtube, this was still the centrepiece of the work and brought about the first standing ovation of the evening.
Sadly, the popularity of the title track also brought forth the problem of the girl in the row behind me knowing all the words and needing us all to know this.
A small but very important tip, singing along at gigs really needs to be done only when the person on stage (the person we’ve all come to hear sing) invites a little audience participation. The annoyance of finding your head in the position where the star of the show is battling it out in one ear with an audience member in the other tends to create a psychosis. I’m all for enjoying a gig, but surely there’s an understanding that others might also want to enjoy it.
Not one but two trombone solos made it into Graham Greene before moving onto a truly sublime performance of Half Past France.
After playing the album in full and a short break, Cale and band returned to the stage to perform a couple of numbers without orchestra but accompanied by an assortment of percussion and drum machine effects.
Amsterdam from the equally brilliant Vintage Violence was followed by Femme Fatale which was mixed in with Rosegarden Funeral of Sores by Bauhaus. A risky idea that would generally be panned if it were taken by anyone else.
A crazed and dangerous take on Heartbreak Hotel was logically followed by a performance of live mainstay Fear.
The orchestra then returned to the stage for two more numbers ending with a blazing version of Hedda Gabler - which was my highlight of the evening. A slightly obscure track found on the Animal Justice EP, it was a perfect marriage between the band and orchestra which truly shone through during the end coda. The only possible downside was that its relative obscurity meant that it took Cale to motion away from the keyboards at the end, before the crowd realised that this was clearly the rousing end to a great set.
A standing ovation then ensued which evolved into an overlong clapping frenzy where the idea of a return to the stage was only kept alive by the house lights remaining off.
One more track was forced out of the band in the form of Dirty Ass Rock ‘n’ Roll after which Cale sounded final whistle with the words “I hope you’ve had as good a time watching as we’ve had playing”.
I think I did. The girl behind me definitely did.
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