One of the founding fathers of The Velvet Underground, John Cale continues to be enthralled by new types of music and engages in his own processes of experimental creation. His seventeenth studio album, Mercy, was released earlier this year – his first album of original music in over a decade. Written during periods of mourning and desperation, Cale’s, at times, grim subject matters are overshadowed by his energetic, passionate, and relentless delivery. His performance, including tracks from Mercy as well as older hits, is the kind of music that you wrestle with rather than just listen to. 

Some tracks are slower and more harmonic, while others pulsate and move, sending shockwaves to every part of the theatre. Cale’s voice meanwhile sends electricity down your spine, his vocal ability still magnificent after all this time. Every word sinks in like ink being laid down on parchment and the audience are compelled and attuned to every single line. Captivating visuals add a mysticism to the songs, adding an alluring edge to some of Cale’s most adventurous and avant-garde musical offerings. It proves to be utterly fixating.

Cale barely speaks to the audience, instead allowing for an essentially unbroken musical experience (although he does briefly stop to ask who is wooing in the crowd). Such breaks would perhaps disturb the flow he has with his fellow performers, with whom he clearly shares a seemingly unbreakable musical affinity and bond. With the music practically never ending, the unity between all those on stage feels unshakable. John Cale might be the name on all of the tickets, but the sense that this is as much a product of inspired collaboration as individual musical genius is unshakable.

With an unmistakable style and a longing for music that shows no signs of slowing, Cale’s newest songs are written with the burden of the past few years weighing heavily on them. The bleakness of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other things, feel inseparable from the lyrics whenever tracks from Mercy are performed, and yet the show closes with more than a sliver of optimism for the future. It is a future that Cale will seemingly be a part of for as long as he has something to offer.