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The Kills, Sonic Youth, Yeasayer Members Join John Cale for Nico Tribute

The Velvet Underground co-founder and a slew of indie favorites honor the late, great Nico in Brooklyn
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Ilya S. Savenok

Art-rock icon Nico has been gone for 25 years, but her legacy can still draw quite a crowd: Indie favorites Yeasayer, the Kills' Alison Mosshart, Peaches and Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon joined Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale to celebrate Nico's oft-overlooked legacy with a concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last Thursday. 

As musically thrilling as the evening's highlights were, the tribute concert may have seemed eerily familiar for Cale, the evening's curator. In 1989, he and Lou Reed paid homage to the late Andy Warhol at BAM with their classic co-composition, Songs for Drella. Life Along the Borderline—his tribute concert for Nico—marked Cale's first performance at BAM since then. Celebrating the dead seems to bring BAM and John Cale together.

Joined by an assortment of indie faves that would make Jimmy Fallon salivate, Cale brought the tragic, intensely icy music of the German singer-actress back to New York City. Knowledge of Nico's solo career might've been limited to cult circles when she died 25 years ago, but love for her fragile art-rock has clearly exploded since then. 

Eighteen of Nico's original compositions were covered both reverentially and inventively by a CrazySexyCool roster of indie artists that also included Peaches, the Magnetic Fields' Stephen Merritt, Sharon van Etten, and Yeasayer. The Queen of Melancholia is gone but she's not forgotten.

The next two evenings, Cale reached back to 1973 to perform his best-known album, the art-pop classic Paris 1919. Taking the stage with bright pink highlights jumping out of his grey hair, the 70-year-old avant-rock legend performed his catchiest album in its entirety backed by a 20-piece orchestra and a rock band (the classical and rock musicians were separated by a plastic barrier, presumably so the drummer wouldn't burst the string section's eardrums). Alternately jubilant and melancholy, Cale's voice sounded every bit as strong as when he recorded the classic 40 years ago.

The only low point of the night: After Cale switched over to his excellent and viciously loud new material, a few ingrates in the audience took it upon themselves to rewrite his setlist for him. After several people shouted out song requests from the '70s, one guy had the cojones to demand he "play anything old!" Ignoring the fact that Cale opened his concert with an entire album of old music, you have to wonder, "Who shows up to a cult figure's concert and demands he start playing his non-hit hits?"

While Cale didn't respond to the audience demands, he did appease them with the Velvet Underground's "Venus In Furs" as his second encore. Cale also offered some enigmatic parting words that the oldies-minded audience members just may have benefited from: "If you keep your heart open, it will always keep beating."

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