Disclaimer: I am a huge Nick Cave fan. I consider Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds one of my top four favourite bands. And in the seven or so years that I have been a fan, he has not once come to play a show in Vancouver. So when Grinderman -- a side project with Cave and Bad Seeds Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos -- announced the show at the Commodore, I was more than a little excited (as those who follow me on the Twitters witnessed. Repeatedly.) But despite my infinite enthusiasm, I was also a little wary. Had I built this up so much in my mind that there was no possibly way my expectations could be met? Nick Cave is, after all, only human (I suspect).
The opener was an interesting choice: Armen Ra. He came out on stage alone, introduced himself, then introduced the unusual instrument he was about to play, with a little background on it. That instrument? The theremin. I have no idea why, but I've always had a mild obsession with the theremin, so my interest was more than a little piqued. Even though I had seen the theremin played live a few times, it was mostly in the middle of a song, briefly, and played somewhat haphazardly. This, however, was nothing like that. It was quite incredible seeing someone that skilled actually playing it. His set consisted of playing over a recorded orchestra and/or piano, and with a couple of classical songs, like "Ave Maria". There were a couple hecklers, but for the most part the crowd was very into it and appreciative, and I was very impressed.
And then, it was time for Grinderman. They took the stage and launched into the opening track from their second album (appropriately titled Grinderman 2), "Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man" and it was immediately apparent I should have had earplugs; they were loud. From there they went into the new single "Worm Tamer" and played almost all of their two albums, over an hour and a half. "Get It On" somehow upped the intensity, and each song following managed to top the last, until half way through the set they brought it down for a moment with "What I Know". But there was hardly a moment to catch our breaths before "Honey Bee (Let's Fly To Mars)" exploded again. If repressed sexual energy and frustration was a music genre, Grinderman would be masters of it. With crass and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, the entire set seemed to build up to the climax, "No Pussy Blues". Cave manically spat out the lyrics, standing on the monitors, as the song erupted with overdriven guitars and chaotic drumming. They ended the main set, appropriately enough, with the final song from Grinderman 2, "Bellringer Blues", a more downbeat and slightly eerie song.
They made us work for the encore, coming back out a few minutes later for a few more. It was a little more tame -- or as tame as Grinderman can be -- starting with the somewhat sweet "Palaces of Montezuma". "Love Bomb" brought the energy back before they ended the night with their self titled song, "Grinderman", full of shakers and hissing, and building to an insane ending with Cave just attacking his guitar.
Cave has been making music for almost four decades, and he has both the experience to show it and the energy of younger musician. I have seen newer bands who have had a fraction of the amount of energy that Grinderman had -- especially Warren Ellis, but especially Cave. While there wasn't much by way of banter -- the usual "thank you's" as about it -- they built up the rapport with the crowd with Cave stalking the stage, going right up to the edge, crouching down and sometimes singing to the lucky people up front, even directing the lyrics to them. It was loud, it was frantic, it was full of raw energy. They were less a band and more a force of nature. My ears are still ringing, and as you may be able to tell from the clumsy attempts, I am having a hard time putting the experience into words. I have no doubt this will be among my shows of the year, and one I will not soon forget. It may not have been with The Bad Seeds, but finally seeing Nick Cave live means my life is that much closer to being complete.
Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man, Worm Tamer, Get It On, Heathen Child, When My Baby Comes, What I Know, Honey Bee (Let's Fly To Mars), Kitchenette, No Pussy Blues, Bellringer Blues.
[encore] Palaces of Montezuma, When My Love Comes Down, Man On The Moon, Love Bomb, Grinderman.