This was the first of two nights John Cale played at the Barbican as part of this year's Convergence Festival and to celebrate his 76th birthday, the shows were billed as being A Futurespective with the London Contemporary Orchestra and House Gospel Choir as well as John's band and an un-named DJ circuit bender type guy who pulled wires out and twiddled knobs etc.
Having managed to get a seat in the 4th row centre I was so close to the action that with such a large ensemble that at times had up to 40 people on-stage I couldn't always see who was playing what and for much of the concert John was obscured behind the music stand on his Keyboards set up so I spent a good amount of time looking at the orthopaedic boot he had on his right foot that seemed to cause him a bit of pain and trouble moving around didn't stop the performance at all. That and taking in the films on the backdrop.
The Orchestra came on first and once they were ready John's band and the DJ guy came out as did John as they opened the show with a long slow ambient noise mainly played by the band and the DJ who was carefully adjusting plugs and twiddling things as the ambient noise slowly became more recognisable as Over Her Head it built really well and had me wondering if this was going to be another one of John's more challenging gigs and with the big visuals behind being almost set to begin with as almost a fit inducing flashing light sequence there was a reason to be a little worried.
That thought was soon put aside with the Orchestra coming fully in on Dying On The Vine a song that has grown over the years since it first came out in the mid 80's with the strings swelling the sound it really sounded very fine and John's voice was in pretty great shape too.
The Choir then came on stage as the orchestra started a slow build at the beginning of Hedda Gabbler and Johns Keyboards were sounding good but the Drummer Deantoni Parks was also adding some techno noises as well as drumming as Dustin Boyer let loose on the guitar and then after the second chorus the choir came in and just took things to another level as the lyrics went round and round and they dovetailed nicely with John's vocals and when one of the Soprano's sang counter to the rest of the choir it was just magical.
As the choir left the stage again John Introduced E Is Missing as being about Ezra Pound which worked nicely with some brass stabs adding to what the band were doing and the slight ambient noises that came in and out during the song.
Helen Of Troy was next with John switching to Guitar for the first time for a very full lush orchestral treatment the brass worked magnificently and then as the vocals finished they went into a very long outro that saw slowly but sure the orchestra dropping out first the strings and then I think the Timpani before they were left with the brass and band for a while before Deantoni gave a nod for the brass to drop out and then his drums and it was done but a true highlight of the show.
As John went back to his keyboards the Choir came back on and the backdrops seemed to go into a splatter mode they started to play Big White Cloud that was just beautiful with all the strings and the choir singing the chorus over and over it really sounded special.
As the Orchestra began Half Past France the choir slowly left the stage once more as John told this well-worn tale of being on tour in Europe for the first time in the early 70's it was almost chilled out as the strings swirled around the Barbican.
John switched back to the electric Guitar for Leaving It Up To You that had some really forceful Timpani on it but it was far less angry than it used to be live making it almost elegiac in places. John was back on the Key boards for Magritte and the DJ guy also returned to do some serious plug pulling and manoeuvring as a counter balance to the swelling strings and the less nuanced side of Dustin Boyer's guitar playing this was one of the songs that had more ambient noises than most.
Then Cate Le Bon came on with an acoustic guitar to sing Buffalo Ballet with John and I have to say I didn't think she added much to it at all I'd have preferred the choir singing to what she did but the addition of the acoustic guitar did add to the mix nicely.
We then got the orchestral masterpiece of the evening with Mr Wilson that was accompanied by film of Brian and his brothers surfing and cavorting as the song unfolded amid swirling strings and great brass and John really seemed to be loving playing this song live and seemed to want to joust with Dustin as his guitar solo got going and this was another big highlight in the set.
John then worried many long term fans that this was going to be a short set by playing Close Watch which for many years was his song to close a set or finish a show too, but tonight it was more at the two thirds mark and was lush and orchestral and just the beautiful love song it is.
Next we got the first new song of the night that I put down as We Are All but I'm informed is called Chums Of Dumpty that had the Dj doing his thang on it as well as lots of brass it was interesting and cool to hear the anger and bile and claustrophobia within it.
Then Cate Le Bon came back out and John joined her out front so they could both play acoustic guitars and sing Amsterdam together as a duet accompanied by the strings and minimal drums making it quite beautiful if again Cate's vocals made her come across as the weakest singer of the evening.
John was back on his keyboards for a brilliant version of Villa Albani that was transformed from its meat and potatoes rock original into an orchestral questioning of power and how its wielded great to hear this mid 80's song really come to life.
We then got the only song of the night to be played only by the band in a stripped back rumble through I'm Waiting For the Man that was far less powerful than I've seen John play it in the past, it sounded good but lacked some of the cold turkey and cold war paranoia that John used to infuse it with.
Then the choir came back on and for the first time all night John introduced the next song Pretty People which is another song off his next album and was a full on soul gospel rouser and call to arms to make the world a better place that sounded pretty wonderful and was a great way to close the set.
Of course the Barbican demanded an encore even if it took them all a good while to leave the stage in the first place they came back out and as had been organised by some of the fans everyone waved glowsticks at John and started to sing Happy Birthday to him, the choir hearing this took over and took it to the next level with John with a big grin on his face conducting them and us.
The first song of the encore was another new one that he introduced as Hatred that took a good poke at all the hatred and madness around us in the world it may also have a dig or too at a certain Orange person. It did feel odd to have finished the set and started the encores with new songs but then John has never worried about conforming too much.
The second song of the encore was a rather lush and brilliant version of Emily a song I can't ever remember hearing played live before it was a lovely way to end a quite brilliant night's music and a reasonably surprising selection of songs.