Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sunday Night Goth Piano Freakout

Grinderman / Nick Cave
Live at the Enmore Theatre, Sunday 21st

It's been a few months since a concert came around that I was genuinely excited about, and almost as long since I saw one that truly blew me away. I'm happy to say that both timers were reset by Nick Cave's (or rather, Grinderman's) concert this Sunday past.

I arrived a bit late, just in time to catch the end of the opening act, an antiquated stage magician. It was a cute act and kind of entertaining, but he was no Dr. Octavio.

We didn't have long to wait until Grinderman took the stage, led by Nick Cave sporting an improbable handlebar moustache and featuring three other members of the Bad Seeds, Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos and Martyn Casey, who are also following the theme of wild facial hair (Jim and Warren's beards reach ZZ Top proportions). Together they delivered a dirty, bluesy variation on Cave's usual style. Cave himself was, as you'd expect, the centre of attention for most of the show, dancing wildly around the stage with that distinctive, preacher-like way of waving his skinny arms around (his dancing as almost as iconic as the spasmodic flailing of the Yorke Gimp Dance) and leaning out over the barrier to speak directly to the front row of the audience. Cave wears a persona for this band, an angry one that makes appear like a man possessed, but it's done with a wink and a grin.

Grinderman: Featuring some big assed beards

The music was fine stuff, supported by a light show that enhanced the bands Tom Waits-esque vaudeville goth sound, and I was particularly impressed by the raw, improvised feel of the band. Most bands I see these days sound perfectly honed and play every note precisely the way it's meant to be, and play it the same way at every concert. While that's a solid musical achievement I'm still more impressed by a band like this one, where the artists are so familiar and comfortable with one another that they can decide which songs to play off the cuff (a memorable exchange from the later set: Ellis: “What key is this in again?”, Cave: “Uh... somewhere between C and G I think.”, [muffled arguing], Cave: “Must be C, it's an easy one. All white notes.”) and to mess around and improvise within the songs without losing the groove.

Grinderman: Featuring Invisible Nick Cave

Grinderman Setlist (to the best of my recollection, as usual the order is probably a bit wrong):
  • Depth Charge Ethel
  • Get it On
  • Electric Alice
  • Honey Bee
  • Grinderman
  • I Don't Need You
  • When My Love Comes Down
  • No Pussy Blues
The short (forty minute) set was good fun, but in my opinion the Grinderman album is a lesser light in Cave's stellar back catalogue and it seems that this opinion is shared widely among my fellow Sydney music fans, as there was an element of restlessness throughout the set. It was good, but we knew that what was coming would be better. The closer, 'No Pussy Blues', was the highlight for most (although I was more excited to hear my favourite Grinderman track, 'When My Love Comes Down' and Cave's awesome guitar freakout at the end of their eponymous song) and at the end Cave announced “Good night... from Grinderman”.

After a short break a new band took the stage, one that looked remarkably like Grinderman but wearing different coloured suits and without the silver stage backdrop. In his guise as 'Nick Cave solo', Cave is much more relaxed and chatty (even more so than Lemmy was), responding to requests and heckles from the audience. I've never heard a band get heckled as badly as Cave was here (although the audience was as a whole wildly appreciative), perhaps it's because he's an Aussie, and therefore fair game as 'one of their own', or is it just because a lot of his songs are quiet, allowing the drunken idiots to be heard? I remain uncertain.

Nick Cave as Himself (rather than the Grinderman)

This set was the heart of the show and the songs ranged in quality from 'Jolly good fun' to 'Completely fucking awesome'. Some were played straight, some were a little Grindermanized from their Bad Seeds origins, and all were introduced by a amiable and witty Nick Cave.

Red Right Hand

With that distinctive bell tone the band suddenly launches into Cave's signature song. The audience immediately goes wild. This one was played fairly straight, save for some particularly aggressive piano and violin freakouts after each chorus. It was an incredible rendition and a fantastic first taste of a band I've been aching to see for years.

Into My Arms

Cave: “We're going to play a few hits for you tonight. Well, not really hits, but songs that wanted to be hits. They tried their very best... Well, they're all hits to me. If you'd all sing along to this one, [pause] it'd be a hit!”

This one was played straight (save for the addition of the backing band, who kept themselves respectfully quiet behind the piano and vocals), but it's another favourite of mine.

The Weeping Song

Holy shit this was awesome. One of the best single songs I've heard from any band this year. On the album it's a classic, but such maudlin stylings does not necessarily carry over so well to a live setting. They've reworked this one into a huge, stomping, aggro motherfucker of a rock track and although it might not sound like a good idea I can assure you that it was an almost transcendent scream-along.

This video has terrible sound quality and it's not nearly as good a version as what I heard (it's from a year ago), but it gives the general idea:

Babe, You Turn Me On

Cannibal's Hymn

These two tracks from the Bad Seeds most recent album were played pretty much straight, although there was a bit of a country twang to 'Babe' and a bit more stompy rockness to 'Cannibal's Hymn'.

Love Letter

The Ship Song

And these two mellow piano ballads were more or less straight too. They lacked a little energy compared to the rest of the show, which is unfortunate, as on record they're two of my favourites. In an amusing interlude the audience asks Cave to move the organ he played on Grinderman as it's obstructing their view of the grand piano. “Lose the organ!”, “Lose the music stand!” Cave dutifully does so (yelling in mock anger at the roadies “Get rid of it! Get rid of it!”). “Lose the moustache!” someone yells out. “NO!” replies Cave, “It's here to stay. And as for the beard...” (pointing at Ellis).

God Is In the House

The heckling actually became pretty entertaining towards the end of the show. Cave introduces the song by saying “It'd really mean a lot to me, if you'd all sing along with the chorus.” “What's in it for us?” someone yells out. Cave laughs for a while and replies “That's the best thing anyone's yelled out at me for... quite a while.” Another funny moment at the end when the song gets really quiet as Cave sings “ quiet as a mouse...” and someone ruins the almost dead silence of the theatre by screaming, causing Cave to leap off the piano stool, run to the front of the stage and make angry shushing gestures.


The Mercy Seat


Jack the Ripper

The main set finished with four old songs that I'm only partially familiar with (but which were all highly enjoyable all the same), performed in a rocky, aggressive style (even 'Deanna'). 'The Mercy Seat' was particularly intense, probably the highlight of the night besides 'The Weeping Song'.

Obligatory not shitty photo

At most concerts the demand for an encore is fairly perfunctory and lacklustre. On Sunday night the roaring of the crowd was an emphatically heartfelt demand for more.

Lime-Tree Arbour

The Lyre of Orpheus
Right Now I'm A-Roaming
Go Tell the Women

There was a fairly long winded discussion about which song to play to first for the encore. Cave ignored our demands for 'Stagger Lee', considered a few others and then abruptly settled on a straight but nice version of 'Lime-Tree Arbour'. This was then followed by an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday by a random member of the audience to Jim (the drummer) whose beard had apparently grown another ring on Sunday. 'Right Now I'm A-Roaming' was a nice, light hearted end to the set, except that just as they were walking off, Nick whirls around, says “I almost forgot!” and played a last, final Grinderman track.

My best beard shot

Another brilliant concert. I've been so lucky to see so much great stuff this year (although I wish I'd bought tickets to Grinderman's Saturday and Monday shows as well). Cave is another brilliant frontman, lacking the charisma of Lemmy or Mike Patton but making up for it with huge amounts of infectious energy. I loved the way he would leap out of his piano stool just to wave his arms in exhortation at the audience in between bars for a mere five seconds before returning to start playing again (his excellent musicianship kind of goes without saying). At any rate, who needs charisma when everyone knows that you're one of the finest songwriters alive today?

Cave will be back next year with the Bad Seeds (and a new Bad Seeds album). I can barely wait!


Joel said...

oh man, this is why i need to leave Christchurch... soon!

Jon said...

Yep! Pity there's nothing else good on while you're visiting...