Golden Banana

John Cale at performing Velvet Underground at BAM

How may times a day do you think the accordion guy on the F train plays “New York, New York?” He must be nearly out of his mind. We put a dollar in his hat and he got off the train when the song ended.

The first time we saw John Cale was at CBGB’s. I think it was late 1976. I just remember the New Math guys seemed to be impressed when I tried out for the band and told them we had just seen John Cale. New Math opened for John Cale at the Penny Arcade but I had already quit the band by then. Cale took the stage solo, playing bass guitar and wearing a hockey mask. And on election night in ’84 Personal Effects opened for John Cale. He had a TV set on stage tuned to coverage but with the sound off and he was chanting “four more years.”

He is playing three nights at the Brooklyn Acadamey of Music in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Velvet Underground’s first album. I bought that album when it came out based solely on the cover. It took me a few listens to warm up to it but it has always been one of my favorites.

At BAM he was in good form and he had a great band and plenty of guests. He opened with “Waiting For My Man.” The drummer channeled Maureen Tucker with no rack tom and only two cymbals. A tuba player joined him for “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and Cale played viola on “Venus in Furs.” Kurt Vile sang and played guitar on “Run Run Run” and was fantastic. And TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe did a great job with “Heroin.”

The various configurations of the band all sounded so good it was a letdown when the drummer put headphones on to play to a sequenced track. Thankfully, they only tried that on a handful of songs. I think Lou would have loved it.

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