John Cale's 15 Minutes In Tokyo

John Cale photographed during brief performance. Photo by Jacqueline M. Calayag.

The spirit of Andy Warhol's Factory was conjured at the Tokyo club

Milk this past Tuesday (April 16) evening, during a sold out private party

entitled "Factory 96," celebrating the first comprehensive retrospective in

Japan of the late New York-based artist's work, "Andy Warhol 1956-86: Mirror of

His Time" (running until June 23rd at the Museum of Contemporary Art

Tokyo).

The primary cause for local excitement on Tuesday was the promise

of a rare intimate "mini-concert" by the legendary John Cale, who was also

scheduled to perform at the museum the following day. Even with a host of other

potentially Warholian elements happening at Factory 96 (ambient drone music,

Warhol images projected on the walls, drag queens, a TV crew from France...) it

was clearly Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale whom everyone wanted to

see.

Fortunately I arrived early, planting myself directly in front of the

small stage at about 7:30. The stage was sparse: an acoustic guitar propped

beside a small chair. Cale was scheduled to start at 8:15 and play two songs. A

subdued, artsy crowd, most of whom had paid 3,500 yen to be there (about $35,

not steep for an event in Tokyo) waited patiently behind me. Why were they so

calm? Perhaps they were older than the average Milk crowd, perhaps they were

trying not to compete with the music, or perhaps they were simply in awe of the

sheer New York intellectual weight of the concept: Andy Warhol's Factory...John

Cale...in Tokyo...in 1996. Yow.

By 8:45, with everyone still waiting for

Cale to appear, the place was packed (I found out later that advance ticket

sales exceeded the capacity of Milk), and anyone within viewing distance of the

stage was rendered immobile by the proximity of the person next to them. Milk

holds just over 400 people on three floors--the stage is visible from the top

two--so the 200 or so who were enjoying the atmosphere of the basement had no

hope of seeing anything on the stage. Moreover, Cale's management was enforcing

a strict no-photo policy, and would not allow video monitors to be set up so

that people downstairs could see the stage.

Finally, after a brief

introduction, Cale bounded onto the stage, smiling, hair trimmed short, and

dressed casually in blue jeans, gray t-shirt and a black leather coat. He

quickly took his guitar and his seat, greeting the crowd with a warm "hello,"

before introducing a new folk song called "Set Me Free," which was

finger-picked with minimalist precision. The acoustic guitar was apparently a

concession on the part of Cale, who had originally requested a grand piano for

his performance, but was denied because they couldn't get one through the door

of the club. Nevertheless, the guitar made Cale confront his audience head on,

and he seemed open, maybe even vulnerable.

"Set Me Free" was followed by

"The Ballad of Cable Hogue," from Cale's 1975 album Helen of Troy, which

he introduced as "a song about two guys who meet in jail and fall in love."

Starting off quietly, Cale gradually built levels of intensity into this song

until by the end he was screaming and nearly falling out of his seat, stunning

the audience with a passionate finale, and then stunning them again by leaving

just as quickly as he had arrived. Cale was out the back door so fast that he

may not have even heard the clearly unsatiated audience calling him back for

more. One wonders whether Cale may have taken Warhol's 15-minutes of fame

creedo a little too seriously here in Tokyo.