Get It On: Visceral Thrills With Grinderman Live

Belittle the achievements of Nick Cave and his Grinderman cohorts at your peril, warns Tariq Goddard after catching the lascivious troupe live at the Hammersmith Apollo. Photo Burak Cingi

I don’t know how many of Shane MacGowan’s admirers would go so far as considering him a suitable role model for a career trajectory, but I was one who did, and from fourteen to my very early twenties emulated his way as the one true path. Perhaps fortunately for me, I dropped MacGowan, not because of anything cosmetic, only that he had stopped writing and releasing material, and took up Nick Cave who seemed orientated, assured and, most crucially of all, prolific to a high and severe standard.

It’s this very professionalism (as well as his range – there are things you can do in a song that you can’t do in a book or screenplay and I think what Nick Cave does best is songs) that has encouraged the quibbles, if not a modest backlash against his reputation. This hasn’t been so great as to actually diminish Cave’s status, which in many ways is at an all time high, but represents a kind of contrarian thinking that in the internet age is only likely to grow. Domesticity on the South Coast, consistency and longevity annoy those who see inauthenticity, sham and showmanship in Cave’s success, and who can only take their singer songwriters as feeble minded losers who don’t ever really know what they’re doing or understand their muse. Alternatively, the arguments goes, if Cave really is in earnest, then he represents an authenticity that is bogus, tasteless and trite. Grinderman’s greatest strength, the kind of intensity that can be controlled without becoming any less intense, is at odds with rock and roll’s underachievement cult that holds that intensity must overwhelm and destroy the subject if it’s to be believable. These gripes are basically supported by the old one, that Cave’s misogyny is less acceptable than before because he no longer casts himself as the victim of his own lusts. This misses the way he has musically travelled from a tragic victim to a near comic one, without the records becoming any less serious or the misogyny any more than a perspective in his lyrical universe. None of which impacts on the sheer visceral thrill of the music.

Cave is a very exciting live performer, even when he’s stuck behind a guitar, and watching his giant shadow cast against the side of the stage reminds me that I’ve never seen him on an off day or night. Cave, Warren Ellis, Martin Casey and Jim Sclavunos race through their set like they’re about to be tipped off a dump-truck, even the slow songs that don’t have this rushed and pent up quality are heavy and sudden, the one light touch being ‘Tell the Women We’re Leaving’, the pay off line spoken almost shyly, not an overused quality in Cave’s repertoire. Despite the raw and cheerful aggression on stage, the differences between this project and the Bad Seeds can be exaggerated; although ‘No Pussy Blues’ is far enough away from a piano ballad to forget that the singer also wrote the ‘Ship Song’, ‘Dead Man in My Bed’ and ‘I’m On Fire’, from the Bad Seeds least regarded Nocturama album, could be prototype Grinderman just as easily as ‘Man In The Moon’ could be the Bad Seeds of that period. That might sound pointlessly technical, but proof I think that you don’t have to be fed up with one band to love the other.

On stage Grinderman act like committed enthusiasts who would be their own audience if they could, the material rousing and never two dimensional in the way that rock spontaneity can be when it goes wrong, Bowie’s Tin Machine or Jack White’s side projects for example. As a maverick traditionalist Cave has never been afraid to pay his dues, perhaps aware that those who remain completely ignorant of tradition can flounder, so its unsurprising that Grinderman should feel like the missing link between Son House and the Stooges. In becoming part of that tradition, Cave seems about as far from caring about critical judgement (especially when torturing a guitar he can hardly play) as a performer can be without losing the desire to perform, closing with the track ‘Grinderman’, a fierce and thrilling noise, predictable but satisfyingly conclusive.


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