Grinderman, Coronet | reviews, news & interviews
Nick Cave and his Merry Men bring the spirit of Goth to SE1
A few years ago a friend told me that Brighton resident Nick Cave had been spotted singing "The Wheels on the Bus" at a local nursery. This might have been an apocryphal incident, but it still highlights a predicament of the older rock star. How do you deal with life's quotidian issues – the daily grind – while still rocking out? Cave’s fiendishly simple solution? Ignore the problem and do both, combining school runs by day with explosive gigs like this one last night.
Grinderman might feel like a perverse back-to-basics outlet for the UK-based Australian, but, two albums of literate, swampy, middle-aged angst in, it is an increasingly effective one. From the moment he kicked off with the contemporary blues of “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man”, the first track on Grinderman 2, there was no stopping him. It was hard to believe that Cave is in his fifties as he kung-fu kicked around the stage, knocked over cymbals or thumped merry hell out of his synthesiser. In fact, there are few performers at any age that can match him for sheer, unadulterated energy.
By the time Cave returned for the encore, he was clearly in a mellow mood
The songs are pretty good too. This project has revealed a hitherto unrecognised streak of self-mocking humour. On the eponymous first album's calling card "No Pussy Blues" – reprised brilliantly to a rapturous ovation here – he wittily bemoaned the fact that his girlfriend was no longer responding to his sexual advances. On the newer "Worm Eater" things are looking up, but he is still not scoring highly for technique: "Baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster / Two great big humps and then I'm gone." He was also very funny off-script. When an Australian fan demanded the track "The Mercy Seat", recorded with his other group The Bad Seeds, Cave politely apologised for the fact that maybe the news that this was a different band had not reached the colonies yet.
Grinderman might undoubtedly be Cave's vehicle, but onstage he had to work hard to keep the audience from being distracted by deadpan bassist Martyn Casey, rock-solid drummer Jim Sclavunos and, in particular, multi-instrumentalist wingman Warren Ellis. If there were medals given out for upstaging in the Commonwealth Games, Ellis should head to Delhi pronto. He screamed the chorus of "Evil" while flat on the floor and shuttled skilfully between guitar and violin on "Heathen Child". Any time there was a pause in proceedings a terrace-style chant of "Warren" broke out.
In the battle of the front men, however, Cave eventually scored gold. While the bearded Ellis, to paraphrase an old Bill Bailey line, resembled a 1917 Rasputin Stars in their Eyes Regional Finalist, the lead singer was effortlessly cool, like an Edward Gorey portrait sprung to life, jet-black hair, pipe-cleaner thin, pin-sharp suit. Pumping his arm like Vic Reeves's club singer, howling like a wolf or leaning precipitously into the crowd, Cave cut a constantly compelling figure.
If there was a problem last night – apart from the rain outside, which meant that steam was rising from the drenched crowd before the gig even began – it was that some of the subtlety of the new album was lost. "Palaces of Montezuma", which boasts a genuinely tender melody, came across as a barrage of noise. But this is a small complaint. By the time Cave returned for the encore, he was clearly in a mellow mood. When a fan jumped up and hugged him he did not just embrace the fan, he embraced the bouncer who tried to haul the admirer away. The Cave of old might have thrown a punch at the security man, this time he just threw back his head and grinned. Maybe those nursery school gigs have got him more in touch with his softer side.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?