John Cale will turn 70 next year, and his voice sounds exactly the same as it did 40 years ago. This, to me, is remarkable. The fact that he was never able to sing like a bird is besides the point. Cale wasn't born to sing, he's a virtuoso on the piano, a wizard behind the production desk, but sort of fell backwards into a singing career on the outer edges of pop -- all of this is also besides the point. People age, their voices change, or to be brutally honest, their voices deteriorate into a husky shell of their former selves. Which musicians from Cale's generation, Lou Reed or Mick Jagger or anyone else you care to name, can say they still sing as well as they did in the 60's? Hell, nearly all of those guys didn't sound like they did in the sixties twenty years ago.
Yet Cale keeps going, looking and sounding great. I went to see him in concert over five years ago and figured it was a good thing I caught him when I did. After all, he was getting up there in years and I probably wouldn't get another chance to catch John Cale live. And yet here he was, playing in front of a rapturous crowd at the Barby, still owning the "Gun"/"Pablo Picasso" medley, still making Matthew Sweet jealous that he didn't write "Perfect". Even the setlist was mostly the same, and songs from his new EP "Extra Playful" slotted in nicely next to a mixture of classics and songs from his last two albums.
After I got home I re-read my comments from the Lula Lounge gig in 2005 (probably for the first time since I wrote them) and was surprised at how little has changed about Cale in concert. You could practically copy and paste those comments into a review of yesterday's show. I do recall that he seemed angrier and more confrontational in '05, as if he had something to prove, or wanted to silence any doubters who didn't think he could bring the intensity. This time he seemed more relaxed, content to show off himself and his band and to play a nice mixture of old and new songs just like you've come to expect from an aging rocker when he's on tour. But only the most cynical of Cale fans would complain that he doesn't show up on stage wearing a hockey mask anymore. By any other, less extreme measure, Cale shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.