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John Cale shows the kids how it’s done

Special to The Times

You don’t often hear the name John Cale and the words “street fair” together, but that was the case Saturday when the Velvet Underground veteran was among the top acts playing Day 1 of the annual Sunset Junction Street Fair.

Cale opened his evening set with “Venus in Furs,” the Velvet’s 1967 ode to sadomasochism -- which didn’t seem so shocking, given that most of the people at the event had strolled past a bar touting itself as a location for “sex, leather and spurs” just a couple of blocks up the street. That those sights and sounds can coexist with pop acts, soul revues, Latin music and even children’s entertainment is a hallmark of Sunset Junction, reflecting the notable diversity of Silver Lake and adjacent neighborhoods.

Cale, 63, did stand out in the lineup on the rock-skewed Bates Street stage at the fair’s western end -- a father figure for the stage’s more typical up-and-comers Rilo Kiley, the Walkmen, Jason Falkner, Black Mountain and others.

The Welsh elder genially gave the youngsters plenty to chew on, with a series of intense songs balancing ambitious art and rock directness.

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He and his young three-piece band enlivened material as varied as ‘70s-vintage “Helen of Troy” and the brand-new “Turn the Light On,” concluding with a brutal yet sly medley of Cale’s “Gun” and Jonathan Richman’s “Pablo Picasso.”

Cale was a classical-music child prodigy. Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis was a child actress. And that’s about as close to something in common as the two acts have. Headlining the Bates stage, which Lewis’ band played in an early-afternoon slot just two years ago, caps a steady rise in the local scene -- and a deserved one for its engaging blend of Americana and glorious pop. Unfortunately, on Saturday, it only engaged people within 100 feet or so of the stage, with the rest left straining to see and often even to hear, especially in the frequent quieter moments.

Among the other Bates acts, a standout was Black Mountain. A Vancouver, Canada, band generating considerable indie buzz, the quintet fashioned a neo-psychedelic haze with elements of early ‘70s Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath prominent in the heady mix.

The most fun band of the day was on the smaller Sanborn Street stage: Vividly sexual and purposefully cartoonish, local electro-punk Gravy Train truly offered something for everybody in this wide-ranging scene.

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