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Kicking Against the Pricks

November 28, 2010

How I Stopped Procrastinating and Let Myself Love Nick Cave and Grinderman

It’s happened with many other bands and musicians. First, I hear a song or read an album review that piques my interest (or draws a precognitive ire…more on that in a couple paras). For a while, I let that percolate, knowing that an full-blown obsession is just around the corner. I let the anticipation build, purposefully keeping myself from relentlessly pursuing details, poring over back catalogs, and seeking concert tickets. Then something  finally pushes apprehension of a new musical connection into breathless fandom.

I knew this day would come: the day when my regrettably casual prior appreciation for Nick Cave’s artistry would reach critical mass and turn into laser-focused obsequiousness.

That day, or more appropriately, that night was November 19, 2010, when I took my wife to The Cannery Ballroom in Nashville, TN. It was an early birthday present for her; it turned out to be a late birthday present for me.

Cave is currently, and all too briefly, touring in support of the Grinderman 2 album. Grinderman is Cave’s stripped-down, feral animal of a rock side project, just barely outside of the ongoing, still-kicking Bad Seeds. Cerebral and literary and carnal, but even more savagely so. The drums pound harder, the feedback hits deeper, the lyrics cut through the flesh and gnaw at the bone. On the whole, Grinderman harkens back to the profane poetry and squealing guitar-centric caterwaul of The Birthday Party while striking out into new, thematically rich (if still familiar) territory: more explicitly predatory sexual love, more gruesome death, more ultra ultraviolence, more mangled Americana, more incisive religious contortions.

Seeing Grinderman made me a believer, and the depth of my fervor will extend to albums outside of the nascent Grinderman arc (an arc that I hope continues its ascendency concurrent with the Bad Seeds’ regular output). Cave, on or off the stage, is a force to be reckoned with, whether we’re talking about songs or screenplays or non-fiction. He’s a lupine poet, a gleefully horny holyman, a guru of the gloriously grotesque, and an incomparable showman.

Pitchfork’s Sean Finnessey falls all over himself to slight Grinderman as Cave’s “schizophrenic and sloppy” midlife crisis while still bestowing an 8.1 rating on Grinderman 2. He calls the most recent effort an “improvement” over the debut and obviously gets the point, but he nevertheless obligatorily goes out of his way to snark incongruously in typical Pitchfork fashion. Too bad that he can’t write the positive review that he clearly wants to without bowing to his editorial masters, who are typically more interested in scoring hipster points than avoiding this sad strain of ageism. If only more artists half Cave’s age were turning out rock this exciting, this vigorous, this brainy, this dangerous.

Grinderman is just another example of Cave’s consistency as an artist. A clear through-line exists from the earliest Birthday Party records, extends into the Bad Seeds up to and including Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, and continues on in rawer, randier form on Grinderman 2. Few musicians have arrived on the scene so fully formed, and few continue to execute with such thrilling precision and sureness.

I am thankful to my wife for her good taste when it comes to sharp and witty bad taste. Thanks to Nick Cave and Grinderman for playing one of my top ten favorite shows I’ve ever seen.

The set list for the November 19 Grinderman show is available here at setlist.fm. Recommended listening: “Kitchenette,” “No Pussy Blues,” “Grinderman.”

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