New club opens on right note


April 23, 2001



Kicking things off on Friday night with a gripping set by the legendary John Cale, it would have been hard to imagine a more auspicious opening for the Chicago area's newest rock venue.

While the Hideout and the Empty Bottle have certainly taken up some of the slack, the indie-rock scene has had an aching hole at its center since the demise of Lounge Ax in late 2000. Similarly sized but with clearer sight lines and a pristine new sound system, Nevin's Live seems poised to fill the need for another intimate venue booking underground acts.

Historically, Evanston has been famously unfriendly toward live music, alcohol and the combination of the two. But the new, 200-capacity bar's association with a long-running restaurant gives it an air of respectability, and its owners haven't cut any corners on making the place comfortable and accommodating. (The no-smoking policy was particularly appreciated.)

Seeing the co-founder of the Velvet Underground in such a setting was nothing short of a joyful revelation. Like the Bob Dylan of the past decade, Cale is constantly reinventing himself onstage, drawing from an embarrassingly rich catalog of great material, but treating these classics as if you're hearing them for the very first time.

Backed at this outing by pedal steel and acoustic guitar, Cale alternated between guitar and grand piano, applying his deliciously deep Welsh-accented baritone to several new tunes as well as familiar numbers like "Cordoba," "Dying On the Vine," his coupling of two songs based on the poems of Dylan Thomas and his positively transcendent cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

While the somber art-rocker could never be described as light-hearted, it was a relatively upbeat Cale who inaugurated Nevin's Live on Friday night, delighting in the dark humor of his story-songs, and saving most of the sturm und drang until the second encore, his trademark, hellfire-and-brimstone version of "Fear."

The evening's only sour note was the mismatched opening act, Joe Cassidy and Merritt Lear of Chicago's Butterfly Child. The acoustic duo's fluffy, wispy and wimpy folk-pop was all too easy to ignore--sort of like having the palate-cleansing sorbet before the five-course meal of Cale's rich gourmet feast.