Australia's dark rock prince went for broke Tuesday night at First Avenue, and hit his mark.
Remember the final scene of "The Wrestler," where a mangled Mickey Rourke is perched atop the top rope, ready to jump to his demise? That's exactly what Tuesday's concert by Nick Cave's crushing band Grinderman at First Avenue was like.
That's not to say Cave, 53, is limping toward retirement, like Rourke's character. The Australian underground rock legend made some of his best albums with his regular band, the Bad Seeds, in the eight years since his last Twin Cities performance.
Still, Tuesday's capacity-crowd concert with Cave's half-sized, triply venomous offshoot of the Bad Seeds had the same precipitous, nothing-left-to-lose vibe. Throw in some of Quentin Tarantino's smirking, over-the-top vengefulness and a little Russ Meyer sexploitation, and it became one of the most cinematic rock shows of recent memory.
For sonic references, the 85-minute concert had more in common with a machinist's workshop or an 18-wheeler wreck than any bands that have played First Ave of late, although traces of Robert Johnson's libidinous, hallowed blues popped up here and there.
Grinderman was born out of Cave's belated and seemingly half-hearted attraction to a fully amplified guitar (piano has always been his instrument of choice). With Bad Seeds/Dirty Three violinist Warren Ellis joining him on screechy guitar and feedback-fried violin -- and the powerful, snaking rhythm section of Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos -- songs such as "Heathen Child" and the show-opener "Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man" splattered through the speakers.
"I woke up this morning and I thought, 'What am I doing here?' " a morose Cave bellowed for his opening line, which was soon followed by fits of wolf-like howling.
The lanky, spider-like frontman dropped his ambiguously frightening lyrics like firebombs throughout the show: "Don't do that on the carpet," "I'm gonna get a pot to cook you in" and "Is there anybody out there wasting their lives on booze, drugs, wives, husbands and making money?" When an audience member threw what looked like a mitten at Cave in "Honey Bee (Let's Fly to Mars)," his nonchalantly improvised lyric -- "And she threw things at me" -- fit the song's other contemptuous lines to a T.
The set list nearly followed the order of the quartet's latest disc, "Grinderman 2," peaking with the "Sympathy for the Devil" sound-alike "Palaces of Montezuma." For the encore, Cave returned more to his Birthday Party roots with the punky amp-blower "Love Bomb" before ending with his band's eerie namesake tune, "Grinderman."
If you looked closely between his furrowed, thick brow and his grimacing mouth, it looked as if Cave had a twinkle in his eye throughout the concert. Whether or not he sees Grinderman as his final top-rope leap, his landing was a perfectly glorious mess.
See Grinderman's set list at startribune.com/artcetera
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658