Venue: The Coronet, London.
Words: Phil W and MMT.
For years I just never really GOT Nick Cave. I know that that’s a controversial statement but I just didn't GET it. Most of all I just didn't really think it was my thing, in the same way I'm still not sure Bob Dylan is really my thing. I am fully aware of all the things that are there to appreciate and I can hardly knock either artist, they are both very good at what they do whether I like them or not, but I just wasn't sure I really GOT Nick Cave.
Then one evening a few years ago while loafing around the Monkey Kettle offices, Nikki told me if I didn't really GET Nick Cave then maybe I'd GET Tom Waits, that might be more my thing. Apparently people often like one or the other, but in that moment my brain knotted the two artists inseparably together despite them both having wildly different styles and backgrounds and yet I still wasn’t sure EITHER was really my thing.
In fact it wasn't until I heard Scarlett Johansson’s solo album that I really began to appreciate the genius behind Tom Waits’ songs and I began to suspect it MIGHT actually be my thing. It was the lyrics; it was all about the lyrics, and suddenly Nick Cave's “Red Right Hand” entirely made sense; the words, the imagery; he was creating his own world in the lyrics, he was telling stories, drawing out characters and it was his lyrics that often provided the strongest hooks rather than the guitar. And now I got it all. Of course Matthew had been talking about Nick Cave for years; I'm a relative newcomer to his work.
Dude, I GET Nick Cave. Oh man, I GET him. Right about here.
The first time I GOT him was in 1992, when I saw him on “The Chart Show”, of all places! It was the video for “Straight To You”, the first single off “Henry’s Dream” – coincidentally my favourite album by yer man Cave & The Bad Seeds. And when I dug deeper and BOUGHT that album, I was hooked for ever. Intricate and evocative lyrics, like you mention. An accomplished writer who was also cool enough to be the stick-thin suit-wearing frontman of an astonishingly tight band of stick-thin suit-wearing hench-musos. And my avid love for his – and their – recorded output subsequently stretched out in both directions to span now more than 30 years. From the sinister garage thrashings of The Birthday Party, through his clattery blues phase, his indie-goth darling phase, his razor-sharp pop rock phase, even his mournful religious piano ballad and his upbeat gospel phases! I have dug it all, and been lucky to see him play live several times over at least two decades. I’ve got his novels, his books of poetry, even him reading his own latest novel across a 7-CD box set. He is, in a very real sense, one of my absolute heroes.
Anyway… can we go and see Grinderman now please?
There's no support tonight, at least none that we come across. We got in early and grabbed a couple of seats on the front row of the balcony with a perfect view of the stage. It’s exceptionally dark and mellow inside the cavernous Coronet, a former music hall and cinema that was converted into a music venue in 2003. We're several beers down when Grinderman take to the stage with riotous opener “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” that’s also the first track of their new album “Grinderman 2”. Up to now I've only heard the first Grinderman album but the new material sounds fantastic live. The exceptionally tall, waif-like figure of Nick Cave darts around the stage, gleefully attacking a guitar or craning over the adoring audience while the impressively bearded Warren (Ellis) constantly threatens to upstage him and even sets off chants of "Warren, Warren" at one point during the set, which Nick Cave joins in with. I've not seen Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds live but tonight Grinderman defiantly felt like a complete band with all members met on equal terms. The anthemic “Get It On” barrages through like a steam train, “Depth Charge Ethel” rocks the pews while “No Pussy Blues” sounds triumphant as well as helpless. The evening closes fittingly with the eponymous “Grinderman”.
If I’m being totally honest, I almost don’t count Grinderman as a separate band – despite what Cap’n Caveman clearly wants us to think. All four members are, after all, IN Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and for all the fuss about the loudness of the guitars on their two albums, it’s still not a million miles from their other recent albums – except with slightly louder guitars. Even the NC&TBS album which comes in between “Grinderman” and “Grinderman 2” (“Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!”) sounds like Grinderman. But none of this is the point.
The point is the smiles on the heavily bearded faces of these men in their forties and fifties. The point is the FUN they’re having, the playfulness in Cave’s lyrics – his best in years, and that’s saying something. The point is that you CAN do both, be BOTH the best writer of mournful religious piano ballads of your generation AND rock out with a ridiculous moustache. The most telling moment of any of Grinderman’s output is the self-revelatory “Damn!” in their best song, “No Pussy Blues”. Says it all.
If I was looking to fully understand Nick Cave then in the live setting I found what I was looking for; it’s Nick Cave's self-mocking humour that really steals the show in the end. That he can be both cool and funny, self mocking and serious all at the same time is at the heart the genius behind his act. “No Pussy Blues” makes not getting laid cool, he tells you he's tried sucking in his gut and he’s trying to stay up late and he's still just so cool about it and we end up smiling about the problem of growing older and still wanting to rock. From the way he leaps around the stage on his impossibly slender frame, you'd never know he was in his fifties and yet his lyrics don't pretend he's still twenty and angst ridden. He's middle-aged and coping fine, he's the Grinderman but that’s okay. It’s a better place to be than six feet under, he sounds like he's okay with it. He's not hiding anything and he still looks so damn cool about it. And now I know this is definitely my thing.
Man, I hope I can still leap about like that when I’M 53 years of age. I bet he feels it in the morning. But yeah, that’s it in a nutshell – he’s clever enough, talented enough, and shrewd enough to surround himself with way talented kindred spirits to do BOTH. Absolutely fantastic – a great gig by a great band… DAMN!