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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Cale and Spedding in Long Beach

February 05, 1988|CHRIS WILLMAN

John Cale has played both solo shows and band shows over the years. On his current trip--which included a stop Tuesday at Bogart's in Long Beach--the longtime cult favorite has compromised by bringing along famed guitarist Chris Spedding to accompany him on his otherwise unadorned, mostly melancholy musings.

That Cale is offering this subdued show in noisy drinking establishments instead of more typical acoustic outlets is surprising. What really made it work Tuesday was the bravura assist from Spedding, who expertly brought some instrumental emotion into the affair where Cale's singing and songwriting get a trifle dry.

Cale was at his most melodic and his least avant-garde--staying behind the piano for most of the set and only occasionally picking up the acoustic guitar, always offering exquisite interplay with Spedding's electric guitar.

Alas, the reserved Cale doesn't take full advantage of being band-less by becoming more intimate with his audience. He did occasionally add a bit of dynamism to his normally flat vocals, though, sounding touchingly tortured in "Heartbreak Hotel"--with appropriately queasy minor chords to match the downbeat words--and his own lovely "I Keep a Close Watch on This Heart of Mine," which closed the show.

Second-billed Ann De Jarnett (formerly of local group Mnemonic Devices) knows how to work her violin into the guitar-centered band she's formed, making it sound like a harder-rocking It's a Beautiful Day. Vocally, however, she overprojected like crazy, and her tremulous voice just wasn't up to belting out every song at full force.

Also appearing were former Rank & File leaders Chip and Tony Kinman, now known as Blackbird--a very noisy (as in "industrial" noise) post-punk duo with a drum machine. The better choruses left you believing that maybe two people can a good rock group make (a la the currently in-vogue House of Freaks). Then again, that guitar racket between songs was silly stuff indeed, and it served no apparent purpose other than to give Chip something to do while Tony changes the rhythm program--and to really, really annoy the audience.

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