One of rock ‘n’ roll’s most iconoclastic figures, the unpredictable and extraordinarily talented songwriter and musician John Cale studied contemporary classical music in the early 60s with avant-garde British composer Cornelius Cardew and performed with equally unorthodox composers La Monte Young and John Cage before meeting Lou Reed and forming the Velvet Underground. Since parting ways with Reed in the late 60s he’s recorded well over a dozen records of unfaltering sophistication, passion, and daring. Cale’s first great record, and arguably his best, was Paris 1919, a mostly acoustic effort full of gorgeous melodies and literate lyrics. In the mid-70s Cale released a brilliant trilogy–Fear, Slow Dazzle, and Helen of Troy–that paid homage to classic pop while vigorously trampling its boundaries. Each record offered lush, rhapsodic pop tunes, brutally dissonant electric-guitar workouts, and compositions that were more like modern art songs than rock ‘n’ roll. After a hiatus during the punk-rock explosion Cale reappeared in 1979 with Sabotage/Live, a din of metal and verbal venom, and in 1982 he recorded an experimental song cycle, Music for a New Society. Its bleak but utterly fascinating songs often consisted of vocal melodies accompanied only by quiet, improvised instrumental embellishments. He’s recorded less frequently in the last decade and rarely makes nonsolo appearances. For this tour he’s joined by veteran pedal-steel player B.J. Cole and the Soldier String Quartet. Sunday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959 or 559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Mary Ellen Mark.