Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Hammersmith Apollo, London
Crystal Castles, Concorde 2, Brighton
Dig, Cave, dig! And unleash your inner dog: The intensity never lets up for the Bad Seed who glides from dark menace to the sublime
Sunday 11 May 2008
You used to hear stories about Nick Cave. At my first music mag, Melody Maker, one of the editorial hierarchy used to enjoy telling the lurid tale of how he was once woken by his doorbell at stupid o'clock in the morning and opened the door to find the singer – then at the height of his hard drugs phase – standing there, slumped unconscious with his forehead pressed against the button. Now, whether this story was true, exaggerated, or a complete fabrication, it illustrates the perception of Cave when the Bad Seeds first formed.
You still hear stories about Nick Cave. Ask any Brightonian, and they'll have a Nick Cave sighting to give you. Cave spotted in a panto audience with his kids, waving a giant sponge hand. Cave with his feet up outside one of those Victorian beach huts on Hove seafront, reading a newspaper. Quite a turnaround over two decades.
And you know what, I love that. I love the idea that, when he's off duty from being the Sinatra of the damned and releasing his demons (or, one probably ought to say, bats) on stage, Nick Cave is just a normal dad. It's one way – perhaps the only way – that someone like him can keep doing what he does beyond the age of 50. He's a sustainable template for the survival of the transgressive and cathartic artist into his second half-century, a living exemplar of Flaubert's dictum "Be regular and ordinary in your life, like a bourgeois, that you may be violent and original in your work".
It's paying dividends. As fine a piece of work as Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus was, if Nick Cave's albums became any more classical (both in their lexicon and their actual musical fabric), they'd need to be carved out of marble. But the whole Grinderman project (Cave's return to the feral garage-blues of his first band, The Birthday Party) has rejuvenated him, jolted his muse into life like a defibrillator, and the latest Bad Seeds album, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!, rides on that momentum.
There's a definite continuity between the two: the Ziggy-esque protagonist of DLD's title track ("The women all went back to their homes and husbands/ With secret smiles in the corners of their mouths") is not unlike that of Grinderman's "Get It On" ("He drank panther piss/And probably fucked the girls you're married to..."). The revitalised Cave signals his intentions early tonight with the venom of the abrupt ending to "Tupelo" ("You will reap just what you sow"), and over an absolutely awesome set which covers damn near every classic you could hope for (minus, strangely, "The Mercy Seat"), as well as advancing a case for Dig, Lazarus, Dig!! as one of the albums of 2008, the intensity never lets up.
His etiolated, skeletal frame freeze-dried into a pair of brown kick-flares, Cuban heels and a too-tight jacket, he's an even more compelling figure than ever. He must have watched enough Bad Seeds live footage that he knows how peculiar his body is, and has learned to exaggerate it even more. In "Red Right Hand" he flaps like an angry pelican; in "Moonland" he throws crazy flamenco shapes, and he constantly manipulates a huge shadow of himself on the side wall.
The slow, warm aaah that spreads around the room as the opening chords to "The Ship Song" are proof that we don't only want Saint Nick to be Saint Vitus. The great romantic balladeer still has a place. "Into My Arms", too: its lines "I don't believe in an interventionist God... but I know, darling, that you do" are up there with "God Only Knows" for opening couplets.
Cave is almost upstaged by bandmate Warren Ellis, who plays violin, flute, "mandocaster" (an electrified mandolin-guitar hybrid), falls to his knees, beats the floor with his fists, and, during a hip-hop breakdown in the middle of "We Call Upon the Author", break-dances. They're far from slick. A phenomenal and extended "Deanna" is outroduced by Cave as "an artful avoidance of a traffic accident"; "Get Ready for Love" is introduced as being "destined for disaster... as all the best songs are".
During a spine-shaking "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry" he forgets the lyrics, but picks up the threads in time for that vivid image about "a fag in a whalebone corset draping his dick across my cheek". They're as pulverisingly powerful as a band with two drummers ought to be, the perfect backing for a man who has recently rediscovered his inner rabid dog.
Crystal Castles are the Toronto duo of Alice Glass (supermodel-stunning, choppy hair, boxy blouson, kohl eyes) and Ethan Kath (chin stubbled, head cowled like a sinister monk), who sound like bulimic children who swallowed the dance music of the 1990s and, having committed Burroughsian cut-up, are now vomiting it out again. The result resembles Ladytron at 78rpm, for a generation that doesn't know what "rpm" means.
Every song is a chaos of epilepsy-endangering strobes and heart-racing bleeps, and every vocal, whether distorted by vocoders or not, is either a yelp or an MDMA-ravaged growl. They're unstoppably exciting. Crystal Castles are the sound of Mike Skinner's plea "let's push things forward" being answered. If they're still this energetic at 50, I'll be really impressed.
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