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What You Missed: Grinderman

24 Nov

We Been Ground, Man or “Why don’t you take it off? The dress, I mean?”

“Dude, there are going to be so many hot girls there,” my friend said to me when I told him I was going to Grinderman at First Avenue. “All the girls I know are like, “Nick Cave, Oooohh.”” From the enraptured mass of beards, mustaches and balding pates swamping up the Mainroom on Tuesday, it’s not just the hot girls that Nick Cave and Grinderman have sway over, but any noise-loving dude with a righteous desire to get louche and loud and god bless us all if we weren’t ground down under Cave’s patent leather squaretoe last night night, in the best possible way.

The night started off innocently and winkingly enough with a performance by Armen Ra, a theramin-playing performance artist of Iranian-American descent. As if that wasn’t enough to sound like a setup to a New Yorker cartoon or a Fox News villain, Ra was perhaps the slimmest, prettiest and best dressed man to take that stage since His Purpleness sanctified it. Meaning, it was weird, and sexy. Ra beamed in from some androgynous past, exercising enormous control with the slightest knuckle movements to bend electromagnetic waves to sound like a disembodied soprano warbling through “Ave Maria”, chansons and show-tunes. Given the explosion that it preceded, it might have seemed like an elaborate practical joke, but the seriousness of the playing meant it was more of an exquisite amuse-bouche, something you could imagine Cave and his cohorts throwing on the Victrola in their black satin wall-papered Gothic mansion. When Ra spoke, he was self-effacing and charming, exactly as you would imagine someone in a tailored tux and white shoes to be. “I have a new CD of traditional Armenian laments,” he remarked. “Don’t get too excited.” Too late. Just like the man bent magnetic waves, a crowd there for blasting rock was silent putty in his hands.

Armen Ra [SNIPPET] from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

But after the quietness and delicacy passed (with interval music that included two cuts from Gil Scott-Heron‘s gut-punching I’m New Here record) it was time for the main course, the smoky wild-pig roast and Cognac of Grinderman. As the rest of the band took the stage, from my vantage over at stage right, there was a clear line of sight under the riser to the doorway of the main dressing room, and as the buzz of guitars and keys built, there was Nick Cave. His sallow face, sans ‘stache emerged from the darkness of the doorframe and rested there, eyes burning out. I’ll admit it, there was thrill there. “Oh shit,” I thought, “this is really going to happen.”

Now, Cave is of course the frontman and the name people know, but before anything else is said about the show, there is something that has to be made clear: Warren Ellis is a beast. Cave may be up front eye-fucking the audience and making the hot girls go “Oooohh“, but Ellis, who occupied the left third of the stage, is the show. With his giant shamanistic beard covering half his whip-thin frame, his hand-waving dancing like Ginsberg on Benzedrine, using his guitar to dig tunnels through the earth, massacring the horsehair of the violin bow, smashing maracas on a hi-hat like he’s beating up your boyfriend to take home over his shoulder, that man is an animal. As if the id of that group of men needed to be released any further into the wild, Ellis is way out there with a vicious howl and glorious yawp.

Grinderman- “When My Baby Comes” [SNIPPET] from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

“Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” opened up the night, with the amps cranked louder and fuzzier, the drums more explosive and vocals rougher than the tracking on the album. That was to be true throughout the night, a great formulation for translating raucous recorded material to an even heavier live show. The chanting refrain of “And we sucked her and we sucked her and we sucked dry,” seemed to come almost too soon in the night, we had just gotten wet, but there was no cautious fumbling here. These men were professionals, out for blood and lust. These are no kids, closer to pensions than high-school, but you couldn’t tell from the way they moved about stage. As another friend remarked on the ride home of Cave’s novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, which he was just finishing, “There’s a lot of pussy talk.” Same is true for the songs, but it’s not just the desire, but the downright burning anger, the contempt for middle class propriety and niceness that makes Cave and Grinderman so goddamn hot. It’s all right there in the self-reliant spitting of “You think your government will protect you?/You are wrong,” coupled with the image of a girl sucking her thumb in the bathtub of “Heathen Child”, which they played third.

The show was not without it’s moments of levity, too. In introducing “Palaces of Montezuma”, Cave sent it out to a very special guest, saying, “This song is dedicated to a girl who keeps on following is around…Dressed as a bride.” When he located her in the audience (front and center) he asked, “Why don’t you take it off? The dress, that is. We thought you might be a ghost.” Which really just about says it all for romance in the Grinderman universe, and apart from that one longer aside, the pace was unrelenting, the furious guitars and wails taking over our ears and bodies by storm. With pleas of “Won’t somebody touch me?” from “Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars)”, the entendre-laden and nigh schizophrenic “Kitchenette”, the thwarted intentions of “No Pussy Blues” and wrapping up their main set with “Bellringer Blues”, our number was up and our bells were rung.

So here to finish it all up is a full song from the encore, “When My Love Comes Down”. If it is blurry, shaken, crackling and loud with flashes of blinding light, that is how it should be. Because no-one left First Avenue not shook up on Tuesday night, not spent, and yet with a wolf-like hunger and capacity for more.

Grinderman- “When My Love Comes Down” from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Grinderman Destroys the Main Room — Secrets of the City — Minneapolis + St. Paul - November 24, 2010

    […] of the best performances of the year last night.  For those of you interested in longer recaps, Cake in 15 walks you through the show and has video help you get a glimpse of the […]

  2. [Reviews] Grinderman @ First Avenue, Minneapolis « Here Come The Wolfmen - November 24, 2010

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