Dirty truth bombs

Pub date July 24, 2007
SectionMusicSectionSonic Reducer

› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Been around da block as Jenny and I have? Then you’re all way too familiar with that cad Hoochie Coochie Man, that bogus Boogie (Chillen) Man, and — natch, Nick — that Loverman. But hey, who’s this new game, Grinderman? This grind has little to do with a full-bodied Arabica, the daily whatever, or the choppers that go "Clink!" in the night. It’s all about that which is toppermost of the poppermost on young men’s minds, always skirting young men’s fancies. Namely, sex, sex, and more sex. Oh yeah, and sex.

No pretense, prenups, or prenatal care here. "An overriding theme of mine is, I guess, a man and a woman against the world," Grinderman’s primo romantic, Nick Cave, murmurs. "But for this record, the woman seems to be down in the street, engaged in life, and the man is kind of left on his own, with, um, y’know, a tube of complimentary shampoo and a sock."

It’s the rough, sordid, inelegant, dirty-old-man truth, youth — and judging from Grinderman’s self-titled debut (Mute/Anti-), it sounds awfully good to me. Consider the configuration of Cave on vocals and guitar along with three Bad Seeds (violinist and electric bouzoukist Warren Ellis, bassist Martyn Casey, and drummer Jim Sclavunos), his solo band set free to create music collaboratively, loosely tethered to Cave’s mad songwriting skills. There’s sex, yes, but Grinderman is also about finding fresh, new positions and approaches to the old rump roast of rock ‘n’ roll, copping new moves to old blues, and finding new grooves for honest old dogs. After all, Cave will have been on this blighted speck for half a century this year. "Look, I’ve been turning 50 for years, so it’s kind of academic at this stage," says the polymath who won over critics with his screenplay for the 2005 Aussie western The Proposition. "I think there’s an old man’s anger behind this record and a sense of humor about it as well, I guess, that you only get with age, really. Where all you can do is kinda laugh. But I do think there’s a sort of rage that’s 50 years old."

It’s there in "Go Tell the Women": "All we want is a little consensual rape in the afternoon<\!s>/ And maybe a bit more in the evening," Cave coos. Scenes abound of balding devils treating themselves to lonely hand jobs in the shower or restlessly flipping channels, fondling the changer, on universal remote; on "Love Bomb," Cave grumbles, "I be watching the MTV<\!s>/ I be watching the BBC<\!s>/ I be searching the Internet." He’s aware of the "mad mullahs and dirty bombs" out there ("Honey Bee [Let’s Fly to Mars]"), but instead of succumbing to death and devastation, Grinderman gets lost in the life force, a many-monikered lady, the old in-and-out, monkey magik — real Caveman stuff.

The band wisely avoided choosing the latter label. But amid testosterone, no one lit on the charm. Congenialman doesn’t have quite the same ring, though the Cave I speak to from his home in Brighton, England, is definitely a lighter, brighter, wittier, and much more charming creature than I ever imagined. Searching for a lighter midinterview, Cave is in fine spirits — Grinderman had only done three shows and an in-store, but he and Sclavunos were pleased with the reception to their collective nocturnal emission.

At the larger Bad Seeds shows, Cave explains, "the audience is a long way away. It’s just been really good to kind of … see what an audience looks like again."

The four first came upon the idea of starting a new group when, while performing as the Bad Seeds, Sclavunos says, "we’d catch glimmers of it in rehearsals or sound checks. Someone would make some awful noise, and we’d all get excited and start playing along with it."

The sole American member of Grinderman and the Bad Seeds — and a onetime member of the Cramps and Sonic Youth — laughs abruptly when I ask him to describe his dynamic with Cave: "Hah! Complicated!" They talk a lot, about matters beyond music. "There’s such a tendency, such an anti-intellectual streak in rock ‘n’ roll music," Sclavunos continues. "Such a fear of seeming to know things and such a tendency to dumb things down for the sake of trying to make it seem more real or give it more integrity. Don’t let it get too complicated or it starts smacking of prog rock or something! But Nick’s not afraid of ideas, and he’s not afraid to try out ideas, and in that sense we’re all of the same mind."

Grinderman is likewise as collective minded as possible. "We do it in very much the traditional democratic manner of bands," Sclavunos offers. "Whoever can be bossier in expressing an opinion about something has the opportunity to speak up, and if there’s anything really objectionable going on, you can certainly count on people raising a fuss!"

The idea was to try something different, Cave confirms. "I asked Warren Ellis what I should sing about lyrically because we had a pretty clear understanding what the music was going to be like, and he said he didn’t know but just don’t sing about God and don’t sing about love," Cave details. "A piece of information like that initially throws me for a six, but it’s actually enormously helpful for me as a writer because it kind of cuts down your options and pushes you into another place." Contrary to belief, the idea was not to re-create Cave’s cacophonous early combo, the Birthday Party. "The Birthday Party were actually way too complicated," Cave says mirthfully. "We don’t have enough brain cells left to be able to cope with that kind of thing."

Sooo … what with all the "No Pussy Blues" and the odes to "Depth Charge Ethel" shoved down Grinderman’s trou, one wonders what Cave’s wife, Susie Bick, must think of the lyrics? She likes the band and the shows, he says, then sighs, "Um, yeah. You know, I think there may have been a certain confusion to begin with, but I cleared that up." As in, who exactly you were writing about? "Yeah. Exactly. Yeah."<\!s>*


Thurs/26, 9 p.m., $26 (sold out)

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF


Also Fri/27, 9 p.m., $26 (sold out)


333 11th St., SF




UK punk pop with enough energy — and provocation, thanks to the Femlin-perpetuated sex and violence in the video for "Men’s Needs," off their new Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever (Warner Bros.) — to shiver your baby bunker’s timbers. With Sean Na-Na and the Hugs. Wed/25, 8 p.m., $11–<\d>$13. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


Another kick inside for Kate Bush lovers? Vocalist Natasha Khan is an ethereal ringer for the lady. I dug the all-girl folk-and-art-song combo when they played South by Southwest — and the affection is catching: Bat for Lashes’ Fur and Gold (Caroline) was recently short-listed for UK’s Mercury Prize. Mon/30, 8:30 p.m., $10–<\d>$12. Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com