Before he began playing Thursday night, J.J. Cale stood offstage surveying the crowd at the Birchmere. Then he simply walked to center stage, picked up his guitar, and, stone-faced, began plucking the strings.
His quiet entrance was fitting for a musician whose simple, wry songs have brought others success while affording only moderate recognition to Cale himself. He acknowledged this when he introduced "After Midnight." Watching TV over the years, Cale said, he's heard the tune in commercials -- first Eric Clapton's version in a Michelob spot, then his own version in an ad for Miller beer, then a session band playing it in a Claritin ad. As he put it, "This next song has two beer commercials and a drug commercial."
The audience seemed to relish the rare chance to see Cale. While he sings of hard living, drugs and difficult relationships, he sees his world in a pleasing light. In a song from his 1971 debut album, he sang, "They call me the breeze; I keep blowing down the road."
Since Cale's sound hasn't varied much over his more than 40-year career, the strength of the audience's reaction was all that differentiated new from old. This tour is meant to promote his first new studio album in eight years, "To Tulsa and Back," but Cale played just a few selections from it. After the 90-minute show and lengthy five-song encore he said simply, "Thank you, music lovers," and blew on down the road.
-- Carrie Nieman