At the Commodore Ballroom on Friday, November 26
In light of Nick Cave’s well-documented obsession with all things biblical, it made sense that there was no shortage of revelations at the Commodore on Friday night.
The biggest one was that—sorry, Lemmy—there’s a new group of kings on the throne in the fabled land of Everything Louder Than Everyone Else. It turned out there was a very good reason that Grinderman was selling earplugs at two bucks a pop at a merch table that also offered tea towels and coffee cups in addition to the usual T-shirts.
The quartet wasn’t just loud, they were fucking deafening. Grinderman had the amps set for 200 decibels past punishing, the hour-and-a-half marathon seemingly designed to separate the curious from the hard-core faithful. If you were lucky enough to secure a spot at the front of the stage, you basically left with full-blown hearing damage.
Almost as revelatory was that Grinderman is, indisputably, a band, as opposed to a moonlighting Nick Cave and three guys—guitarist Warren Ellis, bassist Martyn Casey, and drummer Jim Sclavunos—who happen to play in his full-time backing band, the Bad Seeds.
Impossibly, the most captivating guy on-stage wasn’t the man at the mike. No, that honour easily went to guitarist-violinist-maraca-shaker Ellis, who arrived rocking a look that was part Indian mystic, part Main Street beardo, and part West End dumpster diver. The lanky Australian was nothing less than mesmerizing, to the point where it was hard to tear your eyes away.
Ellis came across as clinically insane, whether sticking his violin bow into the back of his shirt and doing the dance of the hopelessly possessed during “When My Baby Comes”, or using his maracas to hammer the shit out of a high-hat for the encore-closing “Grinderman”. Even though arguing about his finest moment is in some ways pointless, let’s go with the showcase he put on during “Evil”. Forget standing, Ellis decided he’d be more effective writhing around on the stage, screaming into a crotch-level mike. Wild-eyed, with hair and beard matted with sweat, Ellis spent the song’s first 10 seconds sitting there swami-style, and finished the rest of it doing his best impression of man who’s just been hit between the eyes with a cattle gun.
As far as other surprises go, the short list included the fact that Grinderman didn’t have to dip into the Bad Seeds songbook to keep Vancouver enthralled. And let’s also mention the way that the band’s members practically dripped sex appeal, this having nothing to do with their physical appearance, and everything to do with their practically radiating general bad-assness.
Making his first appearance in these parts since being pelted with a shoe (or was it a cigarette pack?) at Lollapalooza ’94, Cave seemed to be on a mission to show Vancouver what it’s been missing. The distortion blitzkrieg that was “Honeybee” had him flapping his arms like the world’s most enraged hornet, while a hard-swinging “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” had him inflicting an awe-inspiring amount of violence on his guitar.
Cave showed why he’s famous as one of rock ’n’ roll’s most captivating frontmen. Highlights included him grabbing what was either an overenthusiastic bouncer or a particularly agile fan during “No Pussy Blues”; after yanking him back onto the stage just as he was about to clamber into the audience, Cave spent the rest of the song with his foot triumphantly planted on his chest. Other moments were more subtle, but no less gripping, whether the Other Man in Black was prowling the edge of the stage like a tent-revival preacher or literally laying hands on the heads of his disciples in the front row.
Even though their 20s are well in the rear-view mirror for the four men of Grinderman, that didn’t stop them from redlining it for the duration of a fire-and-brimstone sonic bludgeoning that included a five-song encore.
The crowd gave it up for Cave, Ellis, Casey, and Sclavunos likes Christians at the Rapture. No wonder. As live shows go, this one wasn’t so much a concert as a goddamn religious experience.
Grinderman performs "Heather Child" at the Commodore Ballroom on Friday, November 27.