Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Bellmer Dolls/Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds at the Worthless Reverse Credit Swap Theatre, NYC 10/4/08

Former Apostates guitarist Peter Mavrogeorgis’ latest project the Bellmer Dolls got the enviable job of opening the evening, and although fighting a bad sound mix that would be a problem all night, delivered an excellent set. Right now this trio are New York’s best exponent of gritty, slightly glammy noir garage rock in the tradition of the Chrome Cranks and early Jon Spencer. The bass, trebly and growly in the style of Jean-Jacques Brunel of the Stranglers, was up and down in the mix all night, though the bassist lept and sauntered around with unleashed energy. From time to time, Mavrogeorgis would let his guitar hang and move to the old organ he’d brought along and add dirty, distorted fills, or just leave a note or a chord sustaining throughout the whole song (though this was, sadly, often inaudible). Their best songs were a straight-up, minor-key garage hit built over a catchy three-chord chromatic progression and a fast, Joy Division-inflected rocker driven by octaves in the bass. Most of the crowd sat outside the theatre for the duration of the Bellmer Dolls’ set: their loss.

 

When Nick Cave and his slightly stripped-down band took the stage, it was hard to resist hollering, “Ladies and gentlemen: The Doors!” Consider: legendary gloomy frontman with a voice few can resist (and a history filled with as many substances as substance); a great band, a flair for drama and the unexpected. The difference being that Cave is alive, rail-thin and looking great, playing a brilliantly diverse mix of songs from throughout his career. While this wasn’t a Grinderman show, Cave played mostly Telecaster: freed from his seat at the piano, he bounded around the stage for most of the night. The jacket came off early: “Don’t make me do that again,” he joked.

 

This wasn’t the Nick Cave that most of the crowd – a remarkably wide range of ages, with lots of couples –  grew up listening to. The band hit the ground running, the lead guitarist strumming furiously on a violin running through a distortion pedal, following their opening number with  Tupelo, then the fast piano anthem Weeping Song. Switching to a tango beat, they brought it down a little with Red Right Hand and then a gorgeous version of Midnight Man (from Cave’s most recent Bad Seeds cd Dig Lazarus Dig) with its lushly crescendoing changes on the chorus. The subdued piano ballad Love Letter got a perfectly pensive, rueful treatment.

 

Wearing thin under the strain of having to sing over a loud, two-guitar band, Cave’s voice started to give out during the gospelish God Is in the House. They began the song casually, bringing it down to just a tinkle of the piano and then silence. “All right,” said Cave in a stagy soul whisper, to considerable laughter. After a tastily brief violin solo, the crowd got into it again at the end when Cave mused, “I wish he’d come out.”

 

“When they came and took me out of the meat locker, the city was gone,” Cave intoned, as the best of the new songs, an absolutely riveting, hallucinatory version of the long post-apocalypse epic Moonland built gradually to a hypnotic intro that got deathly quiet at the end. The high point of the night was, predictably, Cave’s signature song, the anti-death penalty anthem The Mercy Seat which built to a screaming crescendo: “And anyway I’ve spoiled the fun with all these looks of disbelief,” the sardonic words of the wrongfully convicted man in the electric chair as resonant as they were when he wrote it over 20 years ago. As dark, desperate and abandoned as the protagonists in most of Cave’s songs may be, it’s his gallows humor that always saves him from lapsing into cliché and this is perhaps the best example.

 

“This is Into My Arms,” Cave announced to wild applause, much of the crowd clearly gassed to hear that uncharacteristically gentle, romantic pop song. But he didn’t play it. “This is actually Into My Arms,” he explained as the band ripped into a pounding version of Hard on for Love. The surprisingly short, hourlong set ended on a high note with a stomping take of the new We Call Upon the Author to Explain, which decayed into a noise jam mid-song, and Papa Won’t Leave You Henry, from 1992, its attractive acoustic guitar intro exploding into a roar when the whole band came in on the chorus. The first two of the encores, stomping versions of The Lyre of Orpheus and Get Ready for Love, kept the crowd energized. This seems to be it for the US part of the latest Nick Cave tour, which continues in November in the UK: as bad as the sonics were (a venue that charges upwards of sixty bucks a head owes it to their patrons to deliver sterling sound, not the muddy mess it was for most of the night), they definitely went out on a high note. The Bellmer Dolls play the Mercury Lounge tomorrow night, October 7 at 10:30 PM.

 

October 6, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , | 5 Comments