Friday, 1 October 2010

Live: Grinderman - London

Hammersmith Apollo, London UK

Friday 1 October 2010

The longer an artistic career progresses, the more involved and convoluted any discussion of their art becomes. There’s a need to put the latest work into the context of what has preceded it, and to opine whether it is a progression or a retrograde step. With this worrying burden, you can understand why artists sometimes wish to take a tabula rasa and begin again; sometimes this succeeds brilliantly, at others you get Tin Machine. When Grinderman’s first album arrived in 2007, it was clearly intended as Year Zero, and for all the dark humour it contained, there was no doubt that it was a deadly serious endeavour. Their live shows that year lived up to the promise - it was a completely independent and legitimate statement. Yet when The Bad Seeds reconvened, it seemed as if Grinderman had crossed back to the main project. While Today’s Lesson could have been a GM song, live it was even more striking. It was effectively Grinderman who played the first performance of the Lazarus material at a London record store, except they had an extra member - Mick Harvey playing a very quiet acoustic guitar off to the side.

Now Grinderman are back with the second album and have sold out the 5000 capacity former Hammersmith Odeon. It’s certainly theatrical the way that the band takes the stage and Nick Cave follows; but it risks looking like Nick Cave & The Grindermen. Certainly Cave is the visual centrepiece, prowling the apron of the stage, and casting long shadows on the walls, his guitar a seeming substitute for his beloved ciggies of old. There is no doubt that their’s is a reactionary rather than revolutionary approach. Opener Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man recalls the Cavemen period as he howls “Big Bad Wooooooolf”. Recent single Heathen Child still sounds like the stylings of Archie Bronson Outfit to me, but here it gains intensity, the rhythm section building a platform for Nick to be the madman preacher. Like all the songs from the second album, it works much better live than in the studio. They play the entire new album in the main hour long set without it overpowering proceedings; it’s the older songs that seem a bit loose tonight.

It is strange though how Cave refers to the band in the third person. “This was Grinderman’s first single” is how a covers act would introduce a song. His introduction to Palaces Of Montezuma mentions the current alleged plagiarism of the song - for which he apologises to his wife. There is a broader canvas now too; What I Know is skeletal and features an acoustic guitar, while the keyboards of Man In The Moon recall the organ sound of ‘60s psychedelica. For No Pussy Blues the audience provides an accomplished and complicated clap along which follows the bassline. And Martin Casey’s bass is the rock on which this church is built, holding it all together. There is a hugely sensual element to all this; nearby two strangers start to dance together, which rapidly escalates to bump and grind. For me, the whole night comes together when they play Grinderman; Jim is standing and his hanging drumbeats sound as if he’s summoning King Kong, Warren goes maraca mad and Cave tortures his guitar as the song continues to build in intensity. It has real menace, power and sensuality, the four seamlessly working together to create that unique buzz which has kept coming back for over 20 years. Sadly, it is the final song.

So why can’t a new approach be seen as such; if painters are allowed to make wild stylistic turns, why not musicians? Perhaps because in art it would be unusual to have someone jumping between impressionism and cubism, as one style tends to be abandoned as another takes control. A friend thought that Grinderman was a toy they’d weary of, and eventually put it away to concentrate on the main act. Yet now it seems that Grinderman is no longer the hobby; it’s become the horse. This places Cave at a crossroads. Although tonight’s performance had a lot more vim than when The Bad Seeds played this same venue on the Lazarus tour, it’s a simpler template that appeals more to the genitals than the heart or mind. To go in this direction, Cave has put his muse away; if she’s ignored for too long, she may not choose to speak to him again.

© James McGalliard 2010


Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man
Worm Tamer
Get It On
Heathen Child
Palaces Of Montezuma
When My Baby Comes
What I Know
Honey Bee (Let’s Fly To Mars)
No Pussy Blues
Bellringer Blues

Man In The Moon
Go Tell The Women
Love Bomb