Sure, there were a couple of moments (see below), when the academy was under a vague risk of being slightly soiled, of being smeared a little with the street-level grime of the Velvets' Ludlow St. flophouse that has always provided Cale's erudition with its soul and joie de vivre. But overall, it was a genteel affair fit for UCLA live and their main NPR constituency (yup, that was Jason Bentley DJing the afterparty.)
Here's what we wrote last week for the Music Pick preview of this show: "Cale has been playing in public since his teens, first as an avant-garde classical music prodigy, then as a member of the most legendary (almost hallowed in most circles) lineup of the Velvet Underground, and for over forty years as an eccentric, always surprising solo artist. He's done it all and he's always been younger and cooler than you'll ever be. He might be playing all of Paris 1919, but it's always the most fervent version of the present in Cale-land."
Well, last night's show was certainly a version of the present, but it wasn't very fervent. Only a couple of times (again, see below) did we get glimpses of the feverish genius behind one of the most influential musical compositions of the 20th century, "Sister Ray," and the daring explorer working with the Theatre of Eternal Music (check out Cale's drony tapes for LaMonte Young released as Sun Blindness Music--then realize it was 1965 and he was 23).
The rest of the time we got a pleasant dinnertime concert in a sit-down hall full of professorial types and public radio subscribers, with a strict "no photo" policy annoyingly enforced by an army of uniformed student-ushers. This was strictly 20th century bourgeois entertainment, perhaps fitting to the imagery and aura of the album that was being celebrated.
Paris 1919 is a hyper-literate concoction, haunted by all kinds of ghosts, mainly Graham Greene's (who was very much alive at the time). There are also echoes of the world of the young, disaffected Hitler, because this wouldn't be a classic Cale album without a couple of nods to perversion to make the comfortable less so. And the songs are credited to publishing company Tin Pan Punk Music. Yes, Cale was making Punk Music in 1973, while John Lydon was still deciphering Van Der Graaf Generator.
But Paris 1919 is also a secret Los Angeles record: it was recorded here, it features Little Feat's Lowell George, and Cale famously drafted
the 1973 version of the UCLA Orchestraa group of classically trained USC students to add a high-culture patina to his compositions [nobody knows why the UCLA orchestra was officially credited by the label.]
Last night the 68-year-old enfant terrible was joined by the 2010 incarnation of the UCLA best-and-brightest classical performers (fact: all most likely born in the 1990s). During the couple of moments of high energy/high weirdness, the prim collegians looked a little confused by the intensity of the rocking Welshman doing things that colleges these days like to call "inappropriate" (if they only knew...)
It was fun to watch Cale, who in life-experience-years is about 300 years old and has the deportment of a vital vortex of coolness, try to lead these kids through his strange body of work for the amusement of a crowd mostly made up of Greil Marcus- and Camille Paglia- lookalikes.