All great rock 'n' roll is a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous, usually with emphasis on the latter.

Composer/musician John Cale is a stranger to neither. From his early days with the Velvet Underground, to his artistic dabblings in the '70s, he has attempted to reconcile his stark and harsh musical images with his preposterous persona.

At the Bayou Sunday night (he will also appear at d.c. space Thursday), he began his second set with soft, rhythmic accents that were shattered by crunching power chords and his gravelly vocals. His cynical lyrics were set against a background of screaming guitars and pounding keyboards, whose effect was like a pagan rite as practiced by a tribe of urban cannibals.

Cale groveled about the stage in a faded flight suit and hard hat, wrapping himself with mike cords and flailing at his guitar. He ended the show by pouring a bottle of beer on himself and slogging offstage. He was the epitome of the rock 'n' roll maniac sent over the edge by his music, and his show was an engrossing statement of the menacing power of rock music.

Nico, another "Velvet," opened the show with a brief set that was highlighted only by her early departure. Oozing art with a capital "A," she was apparently trying to capture the decadent feel of Marlene Dietrich in "The Blue Angel." Instead, her surly stage manner was more similar to Werner Hinz's Rommel in "The Longest Day."