At the end of a day of Biblical rains and Old Testament portentousness, Nick Cave endeavored to lift the spirits of the crowd of faithful fans who filled the Riviera Theatre last night—though he did it in a typically perverse Grinderman way.
“This is to cheer you up on this gloomy, stormy Monday in Chicago,” the 53-year-old singer and songwriter said five songs into a pummeling 90-minute set. And with that he tore into “Evil” from Grinderman’s recently released second album.
“You are the moon! Who needs the moon?/You are the stars! Who needs the stars?” Cave howled. “Oh, cling to me little baby in this broken dream/And let me protect you from this evil!”
If protection was what one was seeking on this turbulent night, that was, however, an empty promise. Cave’s paired-down quartet—his busman’s holiday from the sprawling Technicolor canvases of the big-band Bad Seeds—was even more take-no-prisoners Spartan and ferocious than it had been during the band’s mind-blowing Chicago debut at Metro three years ago.
The tunes from Grinderman’s self-titled 2007 debut barely were recognizable as they were sprinkled throughout the 16-song set, with standouts such as “Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars)” and the anthemic “No P---y Blues” reduced to eruptions of rhythmic clatter and howling feedback as guitarist/violinist Warren Ellis simultaneously channeled Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, and John Cale at the Velvet Underground’s white-heat noisiest and bassist Martyn Casey and drummer Jim Slavunos evoked an only slightly more linear and less skewed version of the rhythm section from Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band.
Meanwhile, as he aped Iggy Stooge more than at any point since his earliest days in the Birthday Party, Cave played it a little straighter with the newer songs from “Grinderman 2,” especially during the quieter mid-set interlude of the slow-burning “When My Baby Comes” and the acoustic-guitar-driven “What I Know.” But that’s not to say that this material was any less furious, as evidenced by the one-two punch of the openers “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” and “Worm Tamer,” the take-that finality of the set-closing “Bellringer Blues,” and the torrent of lyrical wit and haunting melody that is “Palaces of Montezuma,” this album’s bid for an anthem for the ages and as much of an instant classic as the indelible “No P---y Blues.”
“The hanging gardens of Babylon/Miles Davis the black unicorn/I give to you… The spinal cord of JFK/Wrapped in Marilyn Monroe's negligee/I give to you,” Cave sang among the many memorable couplets. And I’ll be damned if he didn’t once again deliver all of that and more.