Grinderman @ House of Blues in Boston on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010
Nick Cave is an anguished man. He writes of death, of fear, of grief. The tortured souls he depicts in song -- from his earliest bands, Boys Next Door and Birthday Party, to the two-plus-decades-old The Bad Seeds and Grinderman -- portray a violent, harrowing world, and incredibly his written body of work -- books, poetry and screenplays -- up the ante in comparison. Cave kicked off the U.S. dates of the Grinderman tour in Boston, shaking up the sound of the last few Bad Seeds records by the simple act of picking up a guitar. That could seem paradoxical, as the guitar is deemed central to rock's mission, but Cave's songwriting is primarily keyboard-based, and his rudimentary playing technique was the perfect fuel to propel the jagged sound of the band.
Though Grinderman comprises all Bad Seeds members, this is certainly not the same vision: "Wrong band, you dumb fuck. I thought this was a university town," was Cave's retort to a fan's shouted request for a Bad Seeds song. Indeed, Grinderman's two full-length records offered more than enough material to fill the night, which started with the lead-off track of the new Grinderman 2, "Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man." The insistent bass line seeped into my pores like the best of The Jesus Lizard songs, while Warren Ellis traded his trademark violin for a guitar (and occasionally some sort of guitar/mandolin hybrid) and spat out a distorted sound like a demonic force. Clearly, Ellis is a physical force equal to fill the void of departed Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld. Most of the time Ellis was kicking holes in the air with his feet, or sawing wildly on the violin, but on "Evil" he was prone on the stage floor, microphone angled down enough to catch the repeatedly shouted chorus of "Evil" that somehow made its way through his tangled beard, fist-pumping the whole time.
Cave made his mark with his fire-and-brimstone delivery, and played the part of backwoods ranter/urbane myth-teller perfectly. Striding across the stage edge in his typical sartorial statement of finely tailored clothing, he alternated between the loose sleaze of "Kitchenette" and the foul-mouthed scuzzfest of "Get It On." A brief respite from the scorched earth policy was the lighter "Palaces of Montezuma," which sounds too close being a U2 B-side to sit with Cave's best material, but the change of pace was needed. The blues often forms the backbone of Cave's muse, and it's not the standard 12-bar beaten horse, woe-is-me tales. A finer point couldn't be made via the howling "No Pussy Blues," where the sexless life of a middle-aged man whose advances end in abject failure, constantly, is a painful sketch of rejection and anger, punctuated by Ellis's powerhouse work. Cave doesn't get his musical projects out to the U.S. very often, so don't miss this opportunity for a good soul-ravaging.