Grinderman LIVE review

Music Reviews
Grinderman LIVE review
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Jul 30, 2007, 05:11

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GRINDERMAN / BELLMER DOLLS at Slim's, San Francisco, CA; July 27, 2007

I was faced with a choice: catch a dramatic musical legend performing in a glorious concert hall bedecked with rococo flourishes, or watch a 50-year-old man have epileptic fits in a grubby rock'n'roll dive.

The performer in both cases would have been the same: Nick Cave. But since the band in question was Grinderman, Cave's new outlet for his more dubious and debauched instincts, I chose the grubby dive.

Once the Bellmer Dolls hit the stage, I knew I had chosen wisely. Faun Fables, the opening act for Grinderman's concert the prior night (at the lush Great American Music Hall), has its charms. But the Bellmer Dolls' anguished gothic-punk blues suited this evening to a tee. Vocalist Peter “Dark” Mavrogeorgis kicked his skinny, suit-wrapped body like a black rubber skeleton caught in the grip of a horny puppet master—or at least the hip-twist rhythms of Anthony Malat (bass) and Daniel Sheerin (drums)—and Mavrogeorgis' piercing guitar leads owe such a debt to the Birthday Party's Rowland S. Howard that no one except Howard himself could have been a more appropriate opener. With lots of lyrical melodrama and sweaty onstage contortions, the Bellmer Dolls are quickly becoming some of the most rabid and ecstatic lads around.

As for Grinderman, what a difference some facial hair and shaggy locks can do for a band.

photo by M.B. Garcia

Recent Bad Seeds albums have trafficked in light balladry and bluesy hymns. In a word: quiet. But with Cave sporting a cowboy's moustache, bassist Martyn Casey looking like wayward Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones in the Zoso era, drummer Jim Sclavunos hiding beneath a massive beard, and violin master Warren Ellis resembling cult spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh underneath his own beard, the Grinderman lineup was loud, lusty, and playing like the Devil had given them back two decades of youth. Cave played both guitar and electric piano, clawing at the former and pawing animalistically at the latter. During songs like “Honey Bee (Let's Fly to Mars)” and “No Pussy Blues,” the quartet really surged. This was no artful Bad Seeds passion play—this was just four old friends grabbing two chords by the throat and not letting go until blood had been drawn. Awesome.

During the encore, Cave and company relaxed a bit and took requests for old Bad Seeds classics. A few, like “The Weeping Song,” were played so straightforward that they nearly drained the primal energy of the Grinderman set. But others, such as a radically reworked “Red Right Hand,” came as revelations, with Ellis sucking distorted vortexes from his violin. And when an audience member shouted, “You can't leave America without playing [the haunted epic about Elvis' dead twin] ‘Tupelo,'” the band did just that. So even if the farewell encore of Tender Prey's “Deanna”—with an oddball guest pairing of Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra on backup vocals—reeked of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame cheesiness, for the most part this evening was damn the torpedoes and fuck the pretentious solemnity, let's have some fun for once. And fun was had by all indeed.

-John Graham

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