THE CREATURES AND JOHN CALE
At the Roxy
August 2, 1998
John Cale and Siouxsie Sioux, supported by Siouxsie's current band, The Creatures, played a beautiful concert. Two well-established musicians of disparate backgrounds and reputations can rarely be expected to work together smoothly; yet these two performers, combining their skills, managed to impress the audience with a flawlessly performed repertoire. The Creatures played backup for Cale, just as Cale gladly lent them a hand during Siouxsie's singing.
The show started a half-hour late and the crowd waited patiently. Slouching in comfortable couches or standing around smoking cigarettes, the audience could easily be separated into Cale and Siouxsie fans based on appearance alone. The bearded middle-aged crowd, interspersed with people wearing shirts featuring Warhol's banana illustration from the classic Velvet Underground album, were clear examples of the former. Teens dressed in black and sporting piercings through brows, eyes and necks were the most obvious examples of the latter. The older audience had come to see Cale; the punks and the goths came for Siouxsie.
Cale emerged onto the stage and began with a reading of the lyrics to "Lament," beginning to play his keyboard only after he had read out the first few lines. Looking younger than his 56 years, Cale dressed in a black t-shirt and vest. Rarely smiling, he maintained the unenthusiastic stage presence he had established for himself years ago. John Cale's legend began with the release of the first Velvet Underground album in 1967. After being forced out of the band following the release of the band's second record, Cale followed a career of producing albums for artists as diverse as Nico, Patti Smith, The Stooges and Siouxsie and the Banshees. His solo albums range from rock to avant-garde classical music, with Cale playing acoustic guitar, keyboard and nearly every instrument in between.
In the course of his set, Cale alternated between keyboard and guitar, demonstrating his talent with both as fans waited impatiently for the vinyl-clad Siouxsie to emerge. It was only during his fifth song that she strutted onto the stage crooning the last of the lyrics along with Cale. Siouxsie was happy and comfortable in the spotlight, slightly heavier than she used to be, her voice clearly older, yet still staring ahead with her striking eyes, graced with amply black mascara.
Siouxsie launched into her set to numerous cheers from her fans. As Cale retreated from the stage, Siouxsie abandoned her vinyl jacket for a sheer skintight blouse and danced around the stage, singing seductively as The Creatures played. Siouxsie, who, with her former band, the Banshees, had participated in the early stages of both the punk and goth movements, was still vibrant. Her age, however, slightly interfered with her femme fatale act in a way that Cale's age could not interfere with his performance, which relies on depth of voice and musical talent. Her voice somehow seemed wrong for the songs and her appearance no longer appeared fully appropriate to her prancing. Regardless, the strength of the music covered over the deficiencies, forcing fans to leave them aside.
Siouxsie and Cale took turns performing solo sets, sometimes collaborating on The Creatures' songs. At times Cale would emerge with a guitar to accompany the band for Siouxsie's singing; at times he would join them on the keyboard. Even more interestingly, Cale and Siouxsie sometimes took the stage together to sing, with Cale's deep voice reading off some of the lyrics and the vinyl priestess crooning the rest.
Most of Siouxsie's songs were new ones from the band's upcoming album Anima Animus. She announced from the start that few of her songs would be from the past. "No MTV dumbing down here," she smirked. This all-new material found a receptive audience, as did the few older songs that The Creatures played: the beautiful "Miss the Girl," for which Sioux strapped on a bracelet with bells, was especially enjoyable, as were some of the new songs such as "Turn It On" and "Prettiest Thing."
In contrast, most of Cale's songs were much older, coming from his '70s albums. Despite their age, though, the songs were new to a large portion of the audience and a surprised murmur spread through the crowd as Cale sat before his keyboard and began to sing Elvis's "Heartbreak Hotel" to his own classical composition. As one of the best classically trained musicians ever to play rock, Cale excels in playing his compositions.
Perhaps one of the most interesting discoveries of the evening was the skill of Siouxsie's drummer and husband (though only his talents as the former were revealed on stage), Budgie. At earlier stops on their tour Budgie had worn a miniskirt, but fortunately he had abandoned it for this show thereby allowing the audience to concentrate on his talent without being distracted by his appearance. Budgie was not only a wonderful drummer, but he was also the most enthusiastic musician on stage, quickly striking out the beat in a dionysiac frenzy.
Afterwards, the musicians did come out for two beautiful encores. The first, John Cale's "Gun," was a song Siouxsie and the Banshees had covered in the past. The second encore was the high-light of the evening. Siouxsie at her best sang as Cale strummed an electric viola for a stunning performance of "Venus in Furs," a song from the legendary 1967 album The Velvet Underground and Nico. Though originally Lou Reed had sung the lyrics, Sioux's appropriation of the words, "shiny shiny, shiny boots of leather," lent the song a sexy feminine air, which perfectly complemented Cale's viola and the band's performance as the spotlights bounced their golden drops from Siouxsie's vinyl pants.
Siouxsie and Cale worked together almost flawlessly; making no attempt to upstage each other. While a battle of egos can be expected when two stars try to share the same patch of sky, this performance showed that a working union between two musicians who hold mutual respect for each other. While Siouxsie had more fans than Cale, the latter musician was given the chance to open the show. While Siouxsie's band gladly played for Cale, he returned the favor by joining them for most of Siouxsie's sets. And while Siouxsie spent her solos in the spotlight, Cale seemed equally comfortable with the dusk in which he performed his. Playing and singing together, the two musicians showed that a mutually beneficial union is possible through friendship and respect.