I’m sure I’m not alone thinking this, but it kinda bugs me how the term “rock” has been bastardized. Is it just me or am I on some cranky old man shit? Can you even go a day without hearing someone say “that rocked” or “you rock”? I’m just as guilty of it as anyone. I say this, because I have a feeling that as I write this review, I’ll slip into using the term “rock” or “rocked” more than I’d like or want to, but it’s going to be hard to convey the following sentiment using other adjectives:
Grinderman fucking rocks..
Not in a “Dude, you rock.” kind of way. The kind of way like when you are beaten over the head by 4 men pounding away at their instruments like they are playing the last songs they’ll ever play. Or the way in which a 50-something year old male can walk on stage and from the first line of the first song have EVERY female (and some of the males) in the audience surging forward to touch his outstretched hand like it’s the hand of some deity. Or when some bearded psycho picks up an amplified violin, and plays it with the shredded strings of a bow that he’s been carrying around on stage stuffed down the back of his shirt like a weapon. All the while the most stoic bassist this side of the late John Entwistle, stands at attention, holding down the low end in the middle of all this chaos, and a 6ft. tall skinny bearded guy beats the living shit out of a defenseless drum kit. This is how rock and roll was meant to be delivered – loud, sweaty, primal, and above all, with soul. People don’t equate rock music with spiritual experiences for no reason, they do it because when it’s done right, it’s transcendent. Which is exactly what happened when Grinderman took the stage.
From the moment they took the stage and the opening notes to “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” rang out, this audience belonged to Nick Cave, and he knew it. He played to them, beckoned to them, delivering his songs like a mad preacher calling down from the mountain. It was an incredible sight to see, and exactly what I wanted from a rock show. Sure, it was all theatrics, but was performed by someone who’s been doing this for decades. And like the most memorable performers, it was all pulled off with expertise. All this would have seemed over the top, or overly dramatic, but the music that the band was playing behind him demanded it. Grinderman is a loud, noisy band – but not quite your standard 4-piece outfit. Sure, there’s a drummer and a bass player, but Cave is the sometime guitar “player” (he picked up the instrument for the first time during the recording of their first album) . He’s no virtuoso, in this case the guitar is more of a noise delivery device than something that is soothed and played with any kind of finesse. And the fourth man? Well, Warren Ellis was busy on the other side of the stage playing a variety of stringed non-stringed instruments – electric violin, mandolin, smashing a cymbal with a set of maracas, basically anything BUT a guitar, creating a distorted wall of atmosphere and noise. Sounds a like a mess, and in the hands of less-seasoned players it would be. But the members of Grinderman are anything but, and within all the chaos and noise, they brought precision. The band was tight – bassist Martyn P. Casey and drummer Jim Sclavunos holding down a tribal rhythm all while Cave banged away on a helpless guitar and Ellis went to war with whatever he was playing at the time. When Cave wasn’t at the mic, he was prowling the edge of the stage, playing to the crowd. The energy that they brought to the stage was relentless, only slowing down for a couple of songs in the middle, but then picking right back up and sprinting to the finish, closing out with an especially spirited rendition of the closing track on their new album, “Bellringer Blues”, the audience chanting along with the song’s closing lyric “We are soul survivors” until the last note was played. The band returned for a five (!) song encore, finally releasing the audience after the closing song “Grinderman”.
I’ve seen Nick Cave 3 times now – twice with the Bad Seeds, and once this most recent time, and I can say without question that he is one of the greatest frontmen ever. It’s not often when you get to witness rock music played at this level. Sure, there are new groups out there doing it every night, but how many of those groups with the buzz or hype of today will be doing it in 30 years, let alone with the same intensity and passion that they had when they were younger?
When it comes down to it, one of the most exciting things about rock is that it’s risky. The musicians and bands that take the risks and pull it off are the ones you remember. For Cave, Grinderman is a huge risk. Is it commercial suicide? No, the Bad Seeds were never a commercially successful band. It’s probably more of an artistic risk for Cave himself than anything, to do something outside the confines of his main gig that pushes himself musically. Fortunately for us, the risk paid off – the result being one of the most incredible concerts that I’ve ever attended.
Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man
Get It On
When My Baby Comes
What I Know
Honeybee (Let’s Fly To Mars)
No Pussy Blues
Palaces Of Montezuma
Man in the Moon
When My Love Comes Down
*Poster art by Chuck Sperry – http://chucksperry.net/