I saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for the first time a couple years ago and it was a hell of a show. I have become a huge fan over the past 5 or 6 years; I find Cave to be perhaps the most interesting aging rocker in history. His past couple of Bad Seeds albums and his two Grinderman releases are all incredibly strong, and kind of unique: in the world of literature you might expect “mature work” from a guy in his 50s, but in the world of 50-year-old rock musicians you are generally stuck with banalities, retro tours, and burned out husks of men. Cave has lived a rough life, but seems to be so driven and inventive, so fiery and manic, that it is thrilling to hear his work — it’s the sound of a man passionately committed to living a full-throttle life even as his body ages. I guess you could call it libido in a broad sense — not exactly the teenage-lust kind, but the kind that has been discussed in a million novels by old white men. Lust for life.
A lot of critics seem to be drawing a line between Cave’s Bad Seeds work and his Grinderman project, but it hard for me to really see a major difference, except that Nick plays guitar in Grinderman and has a smaller band. Grinderman just seems to be a bit more narrowly focused, a bit more raucous and bluntly sex-obsessed. But it is in the same continuum as the Bad Seeds stuff, and some of the Grinderman songs remind me of songs on the last Bad Seeds album. You still have troll-like Warren Ellis providing loops and odd instrumentation, still have Cave’s crazed poetic gift. I ended up liking the Grinderman show about the same amount as I did the Bad Seeds.
I missed the opener, Shilpa Ray, whom I’d heard good things about. But that was ok. Grinderman took the stage with ferocity, barely leaving the audience with much time to catch their breath, aside from a handful of comments and banter between Cave and the crowd. For the first 15 or 20 minutes I was convinced that this was gonna be the greatest concert I had never seen.
Like a lot of things in life, that level of intensity became a little hard to bear after a while. The band probably recognized this — Cave switched over to acoustic for one slower, simpler song (“What I Know”). But for the most part the show was so intense that I started to wish a little bit for more change-ups, more down time. Maybe he should tell more stories, he is an entertaining person just to listen to. But I am nitpicking here — overall it was an awesome show.
The setlist is here — the highlight was that opening stretch of the first five songs, mostly from the new album. “No Pussy Blues” was a little disappointing compared to its ridiculous bombastic strength on the first album, but again, that is just a tiny complaint.
When I left the show, I chatted to my friend about how if Nick Cave lived in the past he probably would have been a preacher or something, spitting out incendiary sermons to captivated audiences, telling them to change their ways. He has a lot of preacher in him, but it is hard to tell what he is preaching today: maybe he is telling us to go out and sin with commitment.
Here’s a good review from the Philadelphia City Paper. And here is somebody’s sideways video of “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man,” the set opener: