Grinderman's raucous guitar noise is terrifyingly good

July 26, 2007


  • When underground rock icon Nick Cave first formed the Birthday Party in his native Australia in the mid-'70s, he drew equal inspiration from the rawest, raunchiest American blues and the most chaotic avant-garde experiments of the Velvet Underground.

    Like that band's leader, Lou Reed, in recent years, Cave has been much more restrained in doling out the unabashed noise and unbridled lust, adopting an almost professorial persona -- as befits a musician who's also a published poet, playwright and novelist -- while leading the at-times regally orchestral Bad Seeds.

    Grinderman, the singer and songwriter's new side project with Bad Seeds violinist Warren Ellis, bassist Martyn Casey and drummer Jim Sclavunos, is the soon-to-be 50-year-old Cave's attempt to reconnect with the most primal, abrasive and purely sexual elements of the Birthday Party, as well as the mysterious clatter that first fired his imagination as a randy and eager-to-be-misled teen. And on Grinderman's self-titled debut album and at a sold-out show at Metro on Wednesday, he succeeded beyond the most terrifying nightmare of any parent, preacher or police official.

    Sporting an absurd new handlebar mustache and skeletally gaunt as ever, Cave opened by repeatedly declaring ''I am the Grinderman'' -- part boast, part threat and part prayer -- while his equally hirsute bandmates unleashed dynamic bursts of rhythmic dissonance behind him.

    So it went through a short but sublimely punishing 10-song, 70-minute set that found Cave growlingly introducing us to bizarre characters such as ''Electric Alice'' and ''Depth Charge Ethel''; bemoaning his immature but somehow endearing sexual frustrations in songs such as ''Go Tell the Women'' and the mind-blowing ''No [Sex] Blues''; pulling things back just a little for the organ-driven lament ''Man on the Moon,'' then letting loose the bats of hell during furious stompers such as ''Get It On'' and ''Honey Bee (Let's Fly to Mars).''

    The essence of Grinderman's power was the overwhelming noise guitar, delivered by two men, Ellis and Cave, who aren't really guitarists. (Cave never played the instrument before this album.) But the frenzy wouldn't have been nearly as effective without the rhythm section's control of the grooves, the unexpected melodic hooks in the midst of all the ugliness and Cave's wickedly vicious sense of humor permeating it all.

    ''I bought her a dozen snow-white doves/I did her dishes in rubber gloves/I called her Honeybee, I called her Love/But she just still didn't want to,'' Cave sang, shaking with pent-up frustration during ''No [Sex] Blues,'' quite possibly the best ''I Can't Get No'' song since the Rolling Stones' ''Satisfaction.''

    ''She just never wants to,'' Grinderman's leader added, before those guitars found the release he couldn't with an explosion of noise to rival the Velvets' ''I Heard Her Call My Name.''

    In the end, after an equally riveting encore that included grinderized versions of the Bad Seeds songs ''Red Right Hand'' and ''The Weeping Song,'' my ears were ringing, my throat was aching, my head was pounding and absolutely everything was as right as it could be in the rock 'n' roll universe.