★★★★★ John Cale | Gay icon Andy Warhol was a furious, non-stop workaholic. Perpetually partying, even more fiercely than the similarly manic-for-inspiration Alexander McQueen, Warhol had one, pathological pet hate – laziness. Famously, he called Lou Reed – the amphetamine cranked, 24-7 sensation junkie – ‘a rat’, the most poisonous put-down poor tongue-tied Andy could manage.
Ah, but beneath the badly-fitting, signature, snow-white nylon wigs, Andy’s inner bitch was barrelling along with frightening, freight-train venom. Okay, granted, it didn’t surface in print until years later – in Andy’s smash, publishing sensation, ‘The Diaries’ – but especially then, as inescapable fact, Andy’s bile crushed poor Lou.
Tough. The lazy bum should’ve – as Andy hissed – written more songs. Warhol, after all, was publicly billed as the producer of the Velvet Underground’s still-astounding first album, with Lou as front-man, so why shouldn’t Andy insist on humanly impossible excellence?
Lou, after all, was risking nothing – back then, he was just a snotty queen and junkie hustler, but Andy was America’s Pop-Art god supreme. Sure, Lou, later – with methamphetamine poked in every possible orifice – excelled himself with stacks of respected vinyl, but it’s arguably John Cale – the John Lennon to Lou’s Paul McCartney – who blew the roof off Andy’s inhuman expectations.
Yes, granted, their respective, public outrages are a matter of permanent, media record – Lou sporting fascist, Iron Crosses shaved in his peroxide head and John publicly decapitating a dead chicken – but what rock star doesn’t aspire to memorable excess?
So back to John, briefly flaming down this February in London town, still crackling with all the brutal, insolent genius of a singed Satan gunning to kill – stupidity, that is. So he should – John’s back, hell, even his current catalogue – backs down to nobody in inventive brilliance, not even Bowie. And if Bowie – for the better part of a decade – retreated into past mystique, John, non-stop, gleefully trashes his own legacy, and re-arranges it as something far more rich and deranged.
It shows. Not content with producing stellar, landmark albums by Patti Smith, Iggy and the Stooges, Brian Eno and junkie diva Nico, he’s still creatively frenzied. In London, that’s signposted – quite obviously – in the ripped shrapnel dissonance of his dress-sense, a classical musician’s frock-coat and street-scum sneakers.
Mercifully – unlike Lou – John exhibits no desire to perma-bond himself to past glories, in Lou’s case sullen, presumed Poet Laureate of Perversion. Rather, he’s refined the fierce, forensic intellect exhibited on his Paris 1919 album, and the razor-cut, dandy’s discrimination iconically frozen on that record sleeve.
And tonight – as always – is totally uncompromising, all shrieking tsunamis of sound of sonic GBH – grievous bodily harm, a signature, Velvet Underground legacy. It’s a sound later popularised by Berlin band Einsturzende Neubauten, who savaged raw metal with pneumatic drills and power saws, but John, tonight, is beyond compare.
Even for me – a devoted fan – John’s blinding, banshee holocaust makes almost every song unrecognisable. Yes, maybe, there’s ringing, guitar chords of Cale staples ‘Changes Made’, and ‘Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend’ in the eye of the sonic storm, but so what? Complete irreverence for his work is John’s fabulously unique, to-die for appeal, and tonight, he’s stunningly massacred ‘Music For A New Society’, an acknowledged masterpiece, making it stronger still. So what raging idiot would want – or even need? – some knackered burn-out screeching excruciating parodies of their finest, long-gone moments? Frankly, that’s best left to failing show-tunes divas, superglued like rotting corpses to the screamingly obvious.
But John – like Brian Eno and Bjork – is continually scaling unexplored, creative heights. Who else would risk deploying an orchestra of flying drones at the Barbican, or dare re-working the Velvet Underground’s landmarks at an anniversary concert in Paris this April? And it’s no surprise John’s smiling as he leaves. An undoubted, trans-genre genius, he may have released ‘Music For A New Society’ way back in 1982, but tonight, his audience – still basking in his scorching afterglow – have finally caught up with him.
By Fraulein Sasha de Suinn | @MsSashaDarling