Monday, December 13, 2010

The Wolf Is In The House - Grinderman Sludges It Out At The Hollywood Music Box, November 30, 2010

Serious question here.

Has any rock n' roll artist in history had as vibrant and creatively impressive a post-40s run as Nick Cave?


I don't know if it's because, as a performer who primarily works through personas rather than personal connection, his dirty old man shtick has grown more resonant as he aged, or because, in a last half-decade dominated by dance music, twee experimental pop, and annihilating metal, he's one of only a handful of contemporary artists (along with Joshua Homme and whatever side band Jack White's with at the moment), consistently delivering good old-fashioned hard rock, but whatever the cause, Nick Cave's 2000's output, through Bad Seeds releases Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus and Dig, Lazarus, Dig and his even hard-rocking, Stooges-styled side project Grinderman, has been consistently awesome.

Which is why it pains me to say, this show was just okay.

The evening opened quirkily enough with a solo theremin performer who's precise name escapes me (Amon Roth maybe?).  Outside of DeVotchKa, I'd never seen one played live, and never as the central focus of a set.  It was fun for the first few numbers, especially a nifty rendition of the theme from The Godfather, but a little theremin goes a long way, and it didn't take long for the set to start feeling sleepy.

Making matters worse, I had brought along my younger brother Mike, whose tastes run much more to the aggressive, metal side of the spectrum. I worried he would be permanently turned off before Grinderman even took the stage, but he was a good sport about it, and mercifully, the set was only thirty minutes long.

Cave and his hirsute Grinderman sidekicks came out around 10 pm and launched right into a snarling rendition of Grinderman II opener Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man, then quickly followed that with a snappy version of first album opener Get It On, shown in this video below.

Unfortunately, that opening one-two punch would prove to be the best moment of the show.  For the most part, the rest of the night saw the band performing with excellent energy and delivering solid renditions of most of the tunes from its catalog (no Depth Charge Ethel though), but never quite attaining those transcendent moments one always hopes for live, and constantly battling the inherent sonic muddiness of their sludgy material.

That said, the night's only flat out failure came with the band's most popular song, No Pussy Blues, which they hit late in their initial set.

Playing too fast to a changed-up melody and rhythm, the track just felt rushed and off. Cave redeemed it somewhat with some clever improvisation at the end, but for fair weather attendees who only know the act through that song, it had to be a disappointment.

On the positive side, there were some other highlights. 

Pre-encore closer Bellringer Blues had a really impressive, insistent build to it (probably the one track that night that played better live than on the album), the subtle textures to the barely there What I Know cut through extremely well, and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis...what with his Rip Van Winkle beard, custom snub-necked guitars run through a phalanx of distortion pedals, and aging hippie dance moves...was almost as much fun to watch, if not more, than Cave.   He was particularly amusing on Evil, which he played entirely on his back, popping up to a seated position only when called upon to shout out the song's chorus into a lowered microphone.

Here's a pretty decent video of that performance.

So all and all, nothing for the band to be ashamed of.  They came and for an hour and a half definitely gave it their best shot. 

Some nights, it just doesn't all come together, and sadly (though in the end still an enjoyable set), this was one of them.

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