ROCK / Going to the bad: Nick Cave - Town & Country

Kentish Town just wasn't big enough for the both of them. Camden's country-tinged rockers The Rockingbirds pulled out rather than support born-again country fans Moose, as it was obvious that one band in love with Gram Parsons was quite enough.

So Moose were allowed to show what you can do when you take the miserable guitar drone and feedback of the 'shoe-gazing' era of 1991 bands like Ride, Lush and, er, Moose, and spice it up with narrative lyrics and a bit of melody. They did a quaint, deadpan version of the theme from Midnight Cowboy, 'Everybody's Talking', and some sweet songs from their new CD XYZ such as 'Little Bird', but they were still much too static both musically and visually.

Nick Cave might have been hanging around the UK scene since 1981 like a bad smell from the charnel house, but the man from Melbourne still turns in a tremendously energetic performance, making more noise, more music and, most importantly, more connections than young Moose. He launched into his recent Bad Seeds songs, howling into the hole of his man's frantically strummed acoustic guitar as he ripped through 'The Mercy Seat', 'The Good Son' and 'Deanna', and thrashing about like the true heir of Iggy Pop. His Fat Elvis-period baritone switched effortlessly up to a scream or down to a gothic groan, and he spent a lot of time straddling the monitors in his pointy boots and blue Sta-Prest trousers, trading skin with the front row. 'And now, my favourite singer in the world, ever,' announced Cave suddenly, and to everyone's delight on stumbled a chubby, three-quarters cut Shane MacGowan. The ex-Pogues singer was apparently so drunk he could scarcely see, but in a surreal duet of Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World', he came in bang on time, the pair of them competing to see who could sing slowest and sound closest to excess.

Then, in a charitable mood, Cave re-formed The Birthday Party for the die-hard goths. 'Wild World', 'Dead Joe' and 'Nick the Stripper' showed how terribly grave his band used to sound, when Roland Howard's shrieking guitar dominated everything, instead of the simple rhythm section of today's Bad Seeds. People took Nick Cave far too seriously when he gave the signal to 'Release the Bats' back in 1981. He thought he was tracing rock back through punk to its origins in blues and American folk music, not setting himself up to be followed round by stick-legged youths in black who love The Cure and want to sleep in a coffin. Thankfully, The Bad Seeds returned, and given the foot-stomping reception accorded to the more rootsy 'New Morning' and 'From Her To Eternity', we could soon all be wearing cowboy boots.

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