The five minutes of seemingly orchestrated feedback that acts an overture to the first of three UK dates by the former Velvet Underground co-anchor may be a little symphony in its own right, but over the next two hoursit's also the most avant-garde noises on offer. Where Cale's just-released Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood album serves up a dolefully textured set of playfully hi-tech pop songs, live, he and a three-piece guitar, bass and drums line-up deliver a crunchily old-fashioned rock and roll with a metal edge.
Sporting a full-headed Warhol-like silver mane, checked jacket and dryly minimalist stage patter, the now seventy-year old stands before an electric piano which he proceeds to batter with a force that belies the fourth world digital funk subtleties of the record. Cale's perfectionist ear is still finely tuned, however, as he demonstrates when he halts the opening of one song to rid the microphone of echo, then re-starts another later on.
Such ferocity works best on 1970s material such as Guts and Helen of Troy, for which Cale too straps on an electric guitar. There is an interesting live arrangement, however, of last year's Whadda Ya Mean By That? While the woozy gallop of the record may be absent, with Cale on acoustic, the electric guitar licks possess a decidedly velveteen drive. If there's an occasionally melancholy sense of adolescent-based nostalgia in the subject matter of that song and the album's title track, there's a sense too of reclaiming a more recent past. Nookie Wood itself becomes a bad-ass epic as elongated as the inevitable wig-out on Jonathan Richman's Pablo Picasso that closes a defiantly back to basics affair.
The Herald, October 8th 2012