November 20, 2010

Grinderman: The Real Animal Collective

Pt. 2: The Resurrection

2007 saw the emergence of Grinderman, a full-blown collaboration between the new Cave/Ellis team, following (for Cave) a lengthy artistic gestation period following Harvey’s departure.  Warren Ellis confronted Cave with the fact that his material had grown too self-consciously arty and ponderous, and they set about to remedy the situation by shaking up the creative process.  

The new idea was inspired primitivism and spur-of-the-moment inspiration.  Cave discarded the routine whereby he sat in an office from 9 to 5 working on lyrics, and instead just let fly while the tape recorders rolled in the studio, aided and abetted by Ellis and two other erstwhile Bad Seeds, Martyn Casey (bass) and Jim Sclavunos (drums).

Cave, at Ellis’s insistence, even took up the guitar, an instrument he had little idea how to play.  But hey, that never stopped The Stooges! 

The resulting self-titled album was a revelation, with tracks like rollicking “Get It On,” providing a statement of purpose: Cave was re-embracing the whole philosophy of “rock and roll,” of just letting it rip and worrying about the details later.  The element of humor which had gotten buried in a lot of Cave’s recent work was now turned up to 11: “He drank panther piss / and fucked the girls you’re probably married to” (from “Get It On”) being one such example; the entirety of “No Pussy Blues” being another.  Even the album’s more subdued tracks, such as the band’s eponymous theme song, now seemed raw and vital, rather than studied and ponderous.

I knew Grinderman had struck gold when I saw them on one of their few US dates supporting the first album, opening for the White Stripes at Madison Square Garden.  They played the entire album at a high volume and a breakneck pace, with Cave and Ellis particularly throwing themselves into the material with abandon.

The frat boys who I was stuck sitting beside in the upper reaches of MSG, there only to see The White Stripes and ogle Meg's ample bosom, were mortified, much like I remember Styx fans being mortified when they first heard Never Mind The Bollocks by The Sex Pistols.. 

Only here was the twist: a bunch of middle-aged men sporting suits, beards and moustaches were acting too crazy for the youngsters!  They were offended.  

Whoa, settle down, dad!

In actuality, Grinderman was Cave’s latest twist on the punk aesthetic that he first manipulated and reshaped in The Birthday Party, another band that mortified a lot of people.  The lyrics were now more linear, “adult” and sometimes very humorous (although the BP had many hilarious moments), but the music was once again set on fire. 

As it turned out, Grinderman rescued Cave’s career: the next Bad Seeds album, Dig Lazarus Dig!, took its cues from the newfound humor and looseness of Grinderman, and was another artistic high water mark for Cave.  This year’s Grinderman 2 sees the band fully established as an independent entity, not merely an offshoot of the Bad Seeds, and again is a very strong offering, this time benefiting from a proper tour. 

The band’s smoking recent show at Best Buy Theatre in Manhattan gave Grinderman 2 a thorough hearing: the lascivious-sounding, howling “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” got things off to a searing start, and the show seldom let up from there.  Cave still bashes his primitive-sounding but highly effective noise guitar, and Warren Ellis, when not rolling on the stage during “Evil” (which saw the band appropriately bathed in red light) whirls like a dervish while dishing out Ron Asheton-esque wah-wah guitar, wah-wah violin, and crazed percussion.  The rhythm section of Casey and Sclavunos was thunderous and rock solid, underpinning the more musically restrained “When My Baby Comes,” which saw Cave comfortable enough to put down the guitar and make a Bad Seeds-styled excursion around the stage in his hectoring, demonic preacher mode. 

Cave also slyly dedicated the searing new "Worm Tamer" to the "ladies in the audience."

By the time Grinderman closed a out a four-pack of encores bathed in green light for the debut album’s “Grinderman,” it was clear that the 2010 edition of Grinderman more than ever does whatever the hell it wants to do.

Here is the real Animal Collective.  Long may they howl.

--Johnny Walker (Black)

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