@ Leeds University Union
“I've played all over the world and everyone talks about this venue”, says Nick Cave, of the Leeds University Union Refectory. Is he serious or joking? Hard to tell in a project as arch as this….
Nominally a project for having fun with simplistic music and lyrics played over the top, Grinderman is far more than that – it’s rock and roll to believe in. Tonight is full of sweat and passion that belies all ideas of creative concepts. When Nick scissor kicks, grimaces and sweats it is real.
The hall is packed and blisteringly loud. There’s a devotion I’ve not felt since the Who’s return trip to the same venue in 2006. The crowd is a fascinating mix of young and middle-aged, cool dressers, and strange barnets – nothing like a cult artist to bring out a crowd that enhances the show. Lyrics are mouthed and bodies are shaken and pointing fingers waved aloft. The set is blistering and nigh-on ninety minutes long, taking in both the albums. Lyrics are loud and clear and the mix is great – perfectly balanced distortion and arty deconstruction. Man of the match is, of course, Warren Ellis, grooving in the corner playing guitar, maracas, anything else that comes to hand and sometimes nothing at all as he rotates and wiggles on his own groove. He’s the sort of musician I expect to see toiling in artful obscurity, touring upstairs room s in pubs and Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club, not trading licks with a man revered by half the music geeks in the western hemisphere. Nick runs back sometimes to the keyboard to lay out just exactly the wrong notes.
“This one’s about a woman sitting in a bathtub, surrounded by monsters”, says Nick, heralding Heathen Child. By the end the crowd is bellowing the responses: “You think your great big husband will protect you” he says – “You are wrong” shouts the audience. It’s chilling and threatening. They open with the opening tracks of the second album, in pretty much the same order before breaking it up and mixing it up with the old one. Honeybee becomes a mentalist paradise and Nick, now stripped to his shirt, running with sweat, grabs his crotch and rotates his hips, humping the rock and roll sound. No Pussy Blues sets the hall alight with its mix of adolescent yearning, piss-taking and genuine anguish. Kitchenette is extended and sent to a new level of crazed suburban anger. What I know is picked apart and the bones laid out, the whole sense of an empty and scary future laid in front of a young man.
Beyond the details, absolutely central and underpinning it all, is the absolute sense of music that inflames the senses and makes it impossible to be unmoved, unexcited. Grinderman are more than a career break for a jaded wordsmith, they are an invitation to worship at the Dionysian altar of body shaking, emotion muddling, disorientating and rock and roll.