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CIRCUS LIVE

John Cale

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fuxi
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars A lavishly packaged live set which may please some John Cale fanatics.

CIRCUS LIVE's packaging cannot be faulted: each of its three discs comes in a brightly coloured cardboard envelope contained inside another cardboard envelope, beautifully designed and full of information. Together with a richly illustrated booklet (which contains full lyrics to all the tunes on the first two discs) all these envelopes (as well as the discs themselves, of course) are contained in a sturdy (and once again, expertly designed) cardboard box. Discs One and Two were compiled from two or more Dutch live concerts; Disc Three is a DVD which mainly shows you Cale and his band rehearsing.

If you're a John Cale admirer, you're going to HAVE to have this. No doubt you'll also get tempted by the fact that Cale and his young band (most of the players must be less than half John's age) provide powerful reinterpretations of classic tracks such as "Venus in Furs", "Helen of Troy" and "Hanky Panky Nohow".

The main question on my mind remains: does this set really seem convincing as a live experience? In my personal view John Cale has never been much of a rock'n'roller. All of the best rock live albums take listeners on an adventure, eventually leading them to ecstasy. But whenever Cale works with a band his main goal seems to be: alienating his audience. Where the material is strong (as on the above-mentioned "Helen of Troy", or on "Save Us", which came from the same studio album) it's a pleasure for listeners to get alienated. However, where the material is average or weak, the listener simply wants to switch off. This concert contains a least a handful of so-so tracks from recent Cale albums like HOBO SAPIENS and BLACK ACETATE. I never enjoyed the studio versions and I see no benefit in hearing them live. I also see little use in over twelve minute versions of "Gun" and "Pablo Picasso/Mary Lou", or a nearly nine minute "Mercenaries". I'll admit that such tunes sound nicely lugubrious. But once the vocals stop, John and his band simply drag on and on. After five minutes or so the music sounds terribly dreary, and this isn't exactly a famous band, so why bother listening?

Relief is provided by sad ballads like "Cable Hogue", "Magritte", "Zen" and "Style It Takes": the kind of songs Cale excels in. But even here the listener feels that Cale does such stuff better on his own, accompanying himself on piano or acoustic guitar.

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Posted Wednesday, February 17, 2010 | Review Permalink

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