When Nick Cave announces "This next song is for all the womanfolk in the audience," the feeling seems very mutual. In his current incarnation as the werewolf blues preacher of Grinderman, he sings about the same fatal woman who's been shooting sex-holes in his heart for his entire career. With his stern brow, half-open black shirt and slicked-back hair, Cave is like the Neil Diamond of an evil alternate universe where Caroline is not so sweet and Rosie rarely crackles, and he inspires the same kind of frenzy in his audience. Grinderman's whole show at New York's Best Buy Theater on November 14 was one long orgiastic rush. When he introduced the band, Cave grabbed guitarist Warren Ellis in the middle of a maracas solo and flung him down on the ground, yet it seemed like a totally appropriate gesture.
The last time Grinderman played New York, opening for the White Stripes at Madison Square Garden in 2007, they got heartily booed all the way through their set, by a crowd who apparently had no idea it was Nick Cave hidden behind that mustache. This time, it was a club full of diehard Cave fans, hanging on his every word and hip-swivel. He tends to attract an obsessive crowd, to say the least. (At his Roseland gig in 2002, I was up front next to a woman who kept telling me she was the one he wrote "Deanna" about. I wasn't totally sure she was wrong.) He's gotten rid of the mustache, and he only took a few songs to strip down to his clingy black shirt and tight jeans, prowling the stage with a vitality that gives no clue he spent his youth in a drug haze. At 53, he's more lithe than ever — with his broad shoulders, commanding posture, and infinitely grave frown, he could pass for a goth-punk Tim Gunn.
Grinderman downplays the twisted literary balladry of most Cave projects, going for all-out rock energy with three of his Bad Seeds on hand — Ellis, bassist Martyn Casey, drummer Jim Sclavunos — looking like old salts with grimy beards. Live, songs like "No Pussy Blues," "Evil" and "Honey Bee, Let's Fly To Mars" were a swirl of guitar noise, fleshed out with electric violin and organ, as Cave howled lines like "My baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster / Two big humps and then I'm gone."
Practically every song was a demented sex yarn about yet another killer woman, the same one Nick keeps meeting thirty years after the Birthday Party released their first single. The temptress in "Heathen Child" is one he's tangled with many times before, in classic Cave tales like "From Her To Eternity," "She's Hit," "Release the Bats" and "Deanna." In the latest version of the story, she sits in the bathtub, sucking her thumb and cradling her pistol. She's already gunned down all the gods of all the male religions, and now she's just waiting for Nick Cave to show up so she can gun him down too. But not until after she jumps his bones.
The first Grinderman album seemed like a one-off at first, but it's proved surprisingly durable, and this year's Grinderman 2 is even heavier and funnier. It's still brilliantly poetic shit — the highlight is "Palaces of Montezuma," where Nick offers his lovergirl gifts that range from "A custard-colored super dream / Of Ali McGraw and Steve McQueen" to "the spinal cord of JFK / Wrapped in Marilyn Monroe's negligee." It's amazing how Cave keeps growing stronger as a performer and songwriter without renouncing a lick of his past — he's never had a dry spell, never made a weak album, never had a comeback story. In fact, his career arc might be the only non-melodramatic thing about him. And by the time he shut down the show with the slow-burning theme song "Grinderman," he was the only one in the room who didn't look completely worn out.
"Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man"
"Get It On"
"When My Baby Comes"
"What I Know"
"Honey Bee, Let's Fly To Mars"
"No Pussy Blues"
"Palaces of Montezuma"
"Man in the Moon"
"When My Love Comes Down"