Nick Cave, 4th & B, San Diego, 16 September 2008

This was the first gig I’ve been to in San Diego, at 4th & B, an old bank turned into a trendy wine bargig and club venue just a block away from my office on the way to the car park. So convenient, which is what matters the most when it comes to rock’n’roll, don’t you think?

I’ve seen Nick Cave play live once before, as part of a live soundtrack for some silent Japanese movie set in a lunatic asylum. He played a piano ballad at the start and finish, and in between Barry Adamson conducted the Mute Records All-Stars. Pan Sonic, Add N To X, and others created a cacophony which rose and fell through out the film, climaxing with a scene where the inmates have a big benny in the prison. Adamson kept the noise rising and rising. At one point in the impenetrable proceedings, a member of the audience called out, “what’s going on”, to which Adamson turned round and shrugged. The song that Cave played had a lyric that sounded to Friend Robin and I like, “,…”, when in fact it was, “Sweetheart come, sweetheart come…back to me”. Silly boys.

Before the film, we were shown a documentary about Can, from the hairy wig-out period, to found-sound pioneers, to the aren’t-we-wacky time, and finally to the modern inspirational veterans period. I have a copy of Finitribe’s great cover of I Want More, but that wasn’t mentioned here. Then as a nice little interlude we had the charming video for Add N To X Metal Fingers In My Body. So when was that? Quite a while ago.

Anyway, I’ve been getting more into Nick Cave recently. I’ve always been into him and the Bad Seeds in a kind of background way. Friend Robin and I have a running joke about Blixa Bargeld complaining about the venue in that tour film, “If you have a piece with two flutes, and one cello…”.

My username on various sites is ‘muteboy’, which I chose in a very vague way because I like the music from many Mute Records artists. I have an old Mute Records compilation from 1991 which had ‘The Train Song’ on it, amongst some rather less melodic stuff from ver ‘Bauten and others. I’m a fan of Laibach, Nitzer Ebb, Add N To X, Richard Hawley, Cabaret Voltaire, Inspiral Carpets, Plastikman, Renegade Soundwave, and I feel I should like more. And what are website usernames if not an aspirational and pretentious affectation?

Anyway, just last year Cave came out with his eponymous “solo” album Grinderman, which was a harsh and refreshing slice of organ-driven garage rock that sounds a bit like some of the old Birthday Party stuff. I saw them do Honey Bee (Let’s Fly To Mars) on Jools Holland, and it was fantastic, adding that song to my “Songs I Would Like To Cover In That Parallel Universe Where I Cover Songs” list. I particularly enjoyed the lyric, “BZZZZ BZZZZ BZZZZ BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ”.

Last night was the first show of a tour of US and Canada. This was a small(ish) gig before tonight’s Hollywood Bowl show, with Spiritualized. Cassie’s going to that, and I would have liked to go, and see Jason Pierce and the gang. Although I prefer their old stuff (of course), the last couple of albums being a bit too soully and gospelly for me.

Support in San Diego was from Red Sparowes. I don’t know if their name is a take on Black Crowes – they don’t sound like them, being more along the lines of instrumental prog/art-rock with a slightly melodic edge, and an underused steel guitar. They had the usual back-projection of Chairman Mao and some Manchurian corpses, as well as some clips from the wowee-zowee transformation scene at the end of Phase IV (I think). Is there a shop you get meaningful back projections from? Maybe the same catalogue pubs get selected vintage junk, and David Byrne got his metal buildings from. I started out liking the music from Red Sparowes, but I’m not sure about it now. I like that kind of noodly stuff, especially with a bit of weight behind it, but this didn’t grab me.

The Bad Seeds came on to a roar of applause, and started playing so that Mr Cave could come out to a fanfare and hysteria. The crowd loved him. The whole band looked great, suits and shirts with the necks open wide and low. Warren Ellis is looking more like he’s regressing like the guy in Altered States. He’s not at the lumpy amorphous stage yet, just hairy and mad-looking, strumming his electric violin.

They started with some rabble-rousing number, then did a few numbers from the current album, like the title track, and also some oldies and goodies. At one stage half the band left, leaving Cave, the bass player and the drummer to play ‘Into My Arms’ which one member of the audience near me had been crying out for. Someone actually held up a lighter. It’s a lovely song, but it really changed the pace to the detriment of the set. I wonder if it feels like an albatross to Cave. He certainly had trouble getting the words right, making the first verse a few extra bars long. Perhaps he was glad of the sit down and rest.

Nick Cave is a very intense and charismatic performer, with lots of energy and a clear camaraderie with the band, especially Warren Ellis, to whom he kept trying to give a dead leg. The techs kept having to run on and plug something back in, or stand something up. It was a fantastic gig, sweaty, very loud, varied, and a great start to the tour.

Rough unconfirmed incomplete set list in wrong order, don’t blame me.

  • Dig Lazarus Dig
  • Hard On For Love
  • The Lyre Of Orpheus
  • Red Right Hand
  • Let Love In
  • Into My Arms
  • We Call Upon The Author
  • Today’s Lesson
  • The Mercy Seat

I’m not a huge gig-goer, which is something I’ve been trying to remedy in the past few months. This was the first large gig I’ve been to in the US (having seen Brian play last year at a costume party and a local band play in Silver Lake) and I was curious to see if the usual stereotypes and characters come out. They do. You had your achingly hip guy with the (possibly fake) trackmarks in his vintage The Birthday Party tshirt. The guy closing his eyes and screwing his face up while he sang along. All cool.

One of the annoying ones was the guy in the toilet loudly complaining about the support band, saying “I don’t like this band I’ve never heard of. When’s the main group we all came to see coming on?”. He was complaining about the lack of “hooks”. I told him the J Geils Band were unavailable. He said (not to me, just to the world) that this band were “shoegaze” and that “shoegaze ended with Jesus and the Mary Chain” (sic), which is wrong on at least 23 levels, especially if you saw him. Nob.

There’s one of these guys at every gig. I saw Pulp in Brixton Academy in 1994, and Stereolab were supporting, which I enjoyed a great deal. It didn’t stop the twat in front of me shouting out “what’s this crap?” during Stereolab’s ‘Super Electric’ (one of my favourites) and that they should “get that fat cow off the stage”. This gentleman also didn’t enjoy “Warm Leatherette” being played between bands, thus proving his innate inferiority. Or the time I saw Inspiral Carpets at the same venue in 1990, and a guy with a northern accent loudly complained about all the southerners coming to see a northern band. In South London.

UPDATE: This was the setlist. Thanks Daniel!

  • Night of the Lotus Eaters
  • Dig Lazarus Dig
  • Tupelo
  • Today’s Lesson
  • Red Right Hand
  • I Let Love In
  • Midnight Man
  • The Mercy Seat
  • Deanna
  • Get Ready for Love
  • Moonland
  • The Ship Song
  • We Call Upon the Author
  • Papa Won’t Leave You Henry
  • More News From Nowhere
  • [then I think this was the encore] Into my Arms
  • Stagger Lee