A stroke of luck found me riding in a car from BAM back to Manhattan from the first night of John Cale, the Velvet Underground and Nico (an actual album), with legendary music producer Danny Fields. Fields had managed the Ramones; helped to launch the Doors; and told me that he had introduced Cale— the preeminent composer in the Velvet Underground — to Nico, the German muse. Kick in Lou Reed, whom Fields also knew well and you had the band that Cale was resurrecting this evening with new players for this run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
I asked Fields if he had been at the original performance of the album in 1965. “Yes!” And would he compare it tonight. “I think it’s the best ever!”
This opening show is first of three — tonight and tomorrow in which Cale brings in special younger musical guests Kurt Vile; MGMT; Caroline Polachek; Sky Ferreira, Animal Collective; Connan Mockassin; and Thee Oh Sees — and the third on Sunday — his birthday —with the BGV Music Choral Group.
It’s impossible to separate the visual elements of this show from the performers, violas, and tuba on stage since together they form one outstanding sensory ride. From the violet swirls within circles behind Andrew Van Wyngarten while singing “All Tomorrow’s Parties;” to the ruby bursts behind Kurt Vile as he bellowed “Run Run Run!” followed by an intricate guitar solo, this was one fun head trip. For whatever shoes Nico left empty, Caroline Polachek filled beautifully and elegantly in “Femme Fatale,” a mix of sweet and sultry. Even the outfit was on point a sleek black tunic dress with white collar and while sleeves, she used her long arms to beckon towards Cale. Connan Mockasin hits the stage mid show dressed in white dress and cap drag, like a nurse.
All fourteen songs flowed nicely into one another — a few, like penultimate Heroin— sung by Cale alone; until all the musicians come together — with Polachek banging on a tambourine — to a resounding dissonant effect of a finale.
I asked Fields if he felt the absence of Nico and Lou (Reed.) “I was very close to Nico.” He told me; that she and Cale would hang constantly together: that she wanted to be a poet; and that Jim Morrison encouraged her to write her own stuff. “That was the only good thing Jim ever did.”
“Heroin was our anthem. The song, not the drug.”
As I arrived back in Manhattan, I felt like I had just stepped out of a dream, some moody lullaby that Cale will be reliving for two more nights this weekend in Brooklyn.
(John Cale the Velvet Underground and Nico 11/16 and 11/17; John Cale’s 75th Birthday Celebration 11/18; both part of the New Wave Festival at BAM.)
Article by Susan Kirschbaum