Grinderman unleashes sonic assault at Music Box


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There’s visceral, and then there is Grinderman, the unhinged side of Nick Cave and three of his Bad Seeds, who on Tuesday night at the Music Box roared with force of five teenage metal-core bands.

For 75 minutes, Cave and his hirsute handymen Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos mounted an aural assault so ferocious it bordered on spectacle. It was garage blues colliding with screamo, delivered from the apparent restlessness of middle age, as the 53-year-old Australian conducted music that removes all governors from primal urges.

You could be put on a watchlist for what a lot of the music on the two Grinderman albums suggests – or comes right out and says – but coming from Cave, who honed his dark aesthetic in the Birthday Party in the early 1980s and then with the Bad Seeds, it somehow transcends euphemism.

The show began with “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” and its lyric “Woke up this morning and thought, ‘Baby what am I doing here'” – a cliche in virtually anybody else’s hands – but on top of his band’s blunt-force riffs it served as an existential question. What is he doing here? What are we doing here?

After “Worm Tamer,” “Get It On,” “Heathen Child” and then the song this band ought to make its theme when it’s finally anointed the house band for Hades, “Evil,” it became clear: We are here to acknowledge that which we deny. Or at least blot out, thanks to alcohol and empty sex and fetishes for costumed pop stars.

Except for a tender breather or two, Cave’s band played Slaughterhouse 4 the whole night, topping out on the lupine “Kitchenette” – which made you think this is the kind of band the late Sam Kinison could have fronted – and “No Pussy Blues,” in which Cave repeats, “I must above all things love myself.”

It’s good advice, sure, made all the more alluring by the fact that a 53-year-old man sounded like he was trying to talk himself into the notion. Because when you’re going for it, when the sonic throwdown and everything it implies are at their peak, there’s nothing sexier than a little doubt.