Grinderman @ The Phoenix, Toronto, November 11th. The strangest part of the night wasn’t that Nick Cave is beginning to look a little like Cavil from Battlestar Galactica on a bender these days. Jowly. Maybe he always did, but last night was the first time I’d seen him in the flesh.
Nor was the strangest thing—and I didn’t expect this—that Warren Ellis is absolutely batshit crazy. I’d seen Bad Seeds concert films and he was certainly dynamic in them, but in Grinderman he is a complete wild man. Feral. Maybe he always was, but this was the first time I’d seen him in the flesh.
Ellis definitely stole the show, coming-off as genuinely on the edge where Cave’s energetic performance seemed like a contrived act. Again, it being the first time I’d seen him, it was hard to tell if he’s become a caricature of the Nick Cave persona or if it’s always been an act. It was a good act though. No one plays Nick Cave better than Nick Cave. Except Warren Ellis who plays Nick Cave and Charlie Manson simultaneously.
Definitely in the running for weirdest aspect of the evening was the choice of warm-up act in new-agey, miniature, fey theremin virtuoso Armen Ra. More interesting still is he didn’t play the haunting Persian-Armenian themed arias featured on his album (aptly titled Armen Ra Plays The Theremin), he opted for mainly torch songs and show tunes. Including the theme to The Godfather. Surreal. It caused one latecomer to say, “Who the fuck is this guy?”
But then, she was a douchebag made of a half-dozen too many elbows and a stupid hat. She gave Mandi the benefit of her sack of elbows until she was bounced aside by another latecomer who we’ll call Striped-Shirt Girl. They almost got into a fist fight when Stupid-Hat Woman pushed her for flagrant misuse of elbows. Striped-Shirt Girl looked at her in genuinely innocent disbelief and said, “Why are you pushing me?” That’s when she became Incredibly High Striped-Shirt Girl. Whatever she was on looked like fun. In a horrific, never-want-to-be-that-high kind of way. More bizarre was her boyfriend who Mandi dubbed Creepy Ron Weasley. I thought he looked like a Stoned Michael Cera.
They weren’t really strange parts of the evening though, just your regular concert goers. But the trio of fairly middle-of-the-road looking, 40-something, beer-guzzling school teachers from Buffalo were a show in and of themselves. Especially when they picked up a 40-something male, local school teacher.
Making friends was part of the evening apparently as directly behind me Australia Dave and Some Girl From Kitchener With A Valley Girl Voice were a study in diametrically opposed lives. Aussie Dave, a surf-hippie-punk in his late 30s with a goatee, recently emigrated from Australia by way of China and various other Asian countries he’s been living in for several years. He’s looking forward to his first winter in Canada because the only place he’s seen snow was on a trek in Nepal. Some Girl From Kitchener lives in Kitchener and had never heard of a theremin or Godspeed! You Black Emperor (who Aussie Dave has tickets to see in April). She also went to see Nickelback on her 19th birthday, though now admits this fact is embarrassing. She just wants to leave to some place like Australia, Dave just wants to live here. Funny old world.
No, the most bizarre thing that happened last night was when the mentally challenged man—who kept holding his hands out towards Cave like a teenaged Beatles fan from 1964, yelling “Saint Niiiickk!”—turned around and poked my beard. And giggled.
He was a show too. I was initially annoyed by his pushing his way into our corner at the side of the stage. His panicked manner at trying to reach Cave, when the man was nowhere near our side of the stage and showed no signs of returning, was tiresome. He also did this weird beckoning gesture with his fingers like some kind of Jedi mind trick. It was creepy. Which might be why it didn’t work on Cave.
At one point Super Fan also pulled a paperback book out of his jacket. I glanced at it, wondering if it was a copy of And The ass Saw The Angel but it wasn’t. It was Diadem From The Stars. Waving this at Cave also didn’t work as a beckoning call.
As Super Fan got more distraught and seemed closer to a meltdown, to the point of pulling at his hair and moaning, I began to warm to him. This guy really wanted to make contact with “St. Nick”. I wondered if he believed Cave was actually a saint and he’d be cured by his blessed touch and I began to genuinely hope he’d get his heart’s desire. I don’t think he ever did.
That still didn’t make it okay for him to poke my beard and giggle.
Photos by Gabriel Perez.