John Cale will always live in Lou Reed's shadow.

That's what happens when you're the second most famous founding member of one of the most influential rock bands of all time. On the stage, however, Cale is every bit as good, if not better, than his old partner in the legendary Velvet Underground. He drove that point home once again during his concert Sunday night at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco.

Too bad there weren't more people around to find out.

A sparse crowd, estimated somewhere around the 300 mark, turned out to a venue that can hold as many as 1,400. I guess being one of the primary architects of modern rock 'n' roll doesn't move tickets in 2012. That's a shame, because the folks who stayed home missed one heck of a show.

Touring in support of the recently released "Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood," Cale's first full-length studio effort since 2005's "blackAcetate," the Welshman led a versatile quartet through selections from throughout his 40-plus-year solo career.

According to employees at the venue, the show was only supposed to stretch 75 minutes -- which didn't seem like adequate time for an artist boasting such an ample catalog. Cale apparently agreed, as he stayed onstage for roughly two hours — and wasted none of it.


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The start of the show was absolutely inspired. Cale and crew took two solid selections from the late '70s -- "Hedda Gabler" and "Captain Hook" -- and twisted and turned them in glorious ways for 20 minutes. The tunes were furies of feedback, reminiscent of the best of the band Television, and absolute showcases for guitarist Dustin Boyer. I didn't know anything about Boyer walking into the show, but now I'm dead set on finding out everything I can. He's a shredder of the highest order, and one of the most exciting ax men I've seen in a long time.

Boyer was the perfect complement to Cale's voice, which still manages to convey unbelievable amounts of passion and power. He's 70 now, but sounds -- and looks -- much younger. His keyboard work was terrific and his occasionally turns on guitar were also quite enjoyable. He's the rare longtime legend who is still at the top of his game on the live stage.

Cale showcased a number of songs from the new album, the best of which were the touching "December Rains," the Danger Mouse collaboration "I Wanna Talk 2 U" and the main-set closer, "Face to the Sky."

Highlights from the archives included the ominous ballad "You Know More than I Know," the vengeful "Guts" and the strangely anthemic "Helen of Troy," all of which hail from Cale's incredibly prolific, and incredibly good, mid-'70s period on Island Records.

If you are a newcomer to the Cale solo songbook, a good place to start your education is with that 1974-75 Island trilogy -- "Fear," "Slow Dazzle" and "Helen of Troy." A more comprehensive and condensed lesson plan, however, is Rhino Record's two-disc "Seducing Down the Door: A Collection 1970-1990."

Better yet, just begin with the new album and work your way all the way back to the Velvet Underground. For, as Sunday's show so nicely underscored, Cale has given fans so much worthy music throughout the decades.

Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.