John Cale rarely caters to the desires of his fans.
Throughout his extensive career, Cale has made iconoclastic music on his own terms. His appearance at the Lawrence Arts Center Tuesday night was no different. Cale focused on obscurities rather than performing the material that's generally considered to be his most important work.
For receptive members of the audience of about 300 who were willing to accept what Cale and his taut three-piece band presented, however, the 90-minute concert was profoundly rewarding.
Cale may have done more to expand the intellectual and sonic possibilities of rock-n-roll than any performer other than John Lennon.
Cale and Lou Reed cofounded the Velvet Underground 50 years ago. Their groundbreaking collaboration on the band's initial albums relied heavily on Cale's formal training as classical musician and composer. The native Welshman has since forged a formidable career as an unpredictable solo artist and as the sought-after producer of influential albums by the likes of the Stooges, Nick Drake, Patti Smith and Alejandro Escovedo.
A rendition of “Praetorian Underground,” a selection from his forgotten 1984 album “Caribbean Sunset,” epitomized Cale's approach. He raved that “the destiny of music will corrupt the heart of man” during the riveting reading of the dystopian dance song. “If You Were Still Around,” a track from his overlooked 1982 release “Music For a New Society,” was also a revelation. Cale may have revived the funereal song as an acknowledgement of the 2013 death of Reed.
An attempt to salvage the hopelessly dated “Satellite Walk” was less successful. Yet even the dance-pop novelty from 1985 exemplified Cale's breathtaking range and adventurous spirit.
Cale assumed the role of an enraged prophet on “You Know More Than I Know” and resembled a mellifluous version of Leonard Cohen on the rousing “The Hanging.” An aggressively ugly reading of “Fear Is a Man's Best Friend” was extraordinarily discordant. The inverted funk of an antagonistic arrangement of “Ship of Fools” lured a trio of dancers to the lip of the stage.
Cale concluded his outing with a primal version of “Pablo Picasso,” a song he produced for the Modern Lovers in 1972.
The audience, perhaps hoping for an encore that would include a single Velvet Underground song or a highlight of Cale's solo career such as “Dying On the Vine” or :Paris 1919,” demanded an encore that never came.