Solid Sound Festival 2017

As promised, Wilco performed its 1996 album Being There from beginning to end on Friday, June 23. Being There had won an online poll asking Wilco fans which of the band’s records it should perform on the opening night of Solid Sound, a festival Wilco curates every other year at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts. After playing the 24 Americana songs on that beloved double album — without ever pausing for any of frontman Jeff Tweedy’s usual stage banter — Wilco came back onstage for an encore.

Without saying anything, the band launched into “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” the opening track from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, its masterpiece album from 2002. And then the band played “Kamera,” the second song on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. At this point, I wondered: Wait a second — is Wilco going to play the entire Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album, too? Some people standing near me in the crowd voiced the same question. And sure enough, that’s exactly what Tweedy and his band did, delivering all 11 songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in sequence, without ever stopping to announce what they were doing.

Wilco played the songs from both albums with the sort of flourishes and sonic layers that are typical of its live performances, but the band seemed to rein in those embellishments a little bit, keeping most of the songs as concise as they are on the original records. For instance, Tweedy has created a tradition of shouting “Nothing!” many, many times at the climax of “Misunderstood,” the opening song on Being There. He skipped that ritual during this performance.

The concert gained intensity during the encore, which showed just how artfully Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was constructed. After the noisy climax of “Poor Places,” Tweedy sang the opening verse of “Reservations” in a practically solo performance on acoustic guitar. A hush fell over the outdoor field where Wilco was playing — on the grounds of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art — as Tweedy quietly sang. The band subtly began filling in the rest of the song behind him. Just as it does on the record, the song drifted into an atmospheric final epilogue. That recording continued to play after the members of Wilco had lifted their hands toward the audience and departed from the stage. It was breathtakingly beautiful. (NYC Taper posted a recording of the show.)

This was the high point of Solid Sound, but it was hardly the only reason that the festival was worth traveling to attend. The weekend also included a rare concert by the Shaggs, the sisters who made the legendarily shambolic record Philosophy of the World in 1969. This performance was actually by two of the sisters — Dot and Betty Wiggin — and they were just singing. As an article in one of the local newspapers, The Manchester Journal, explained, “Arthritis prevents both Dot and Betty from playing instruments.” They were backed up by a younger group that has also played with Dot in recent years, the Dot Wiggin Band. As the Journal noted, “they work hard to master the sisters’ very unique style.” That made for a rather strange spectacle — seemingly talented musicians trying their best to sound as primitive as the Shaggs did when they made that 1969 recording under their father’s tutelage. The audience included adoring members of the Shaggs cult as well as some people who didn’t grasp what was going on. “My God, these people can’t keep the beat,” remarked a beer vendor who was clearly unfamiliar with the story of the Shaggs. “That’s how it’s supposed to sound,” I tried to explain. She shook her head and said, “So, it’s one of those things where it’s supposed to be so bad that it’s good?” It was certainly surreal, and I found it rather endearing to watch these two older women singing the off-kilter ditties they’d recorded when they were young.

Highlights of Solid Sound included a set by Television — even without Richard Lloyd, the group plays terrific guitar duels. And so did Kevin Morby and his band. Joan Shelley’s lilting folk songs sounded as delightful as ever. I was very impressed by the vocals and guitar playing of the Saskatchewan country-folk duo Kacy & Clayton (who have recorded a new album at Wilco’s Loft studio in Chicago). Another Saskatchewan musician, Andy Shauf, performed lovely ballads. Daniel Bachman’s instrumental guitar music was exquisite. And the emotion of Big Thief’s songs was palpable. While I was never a big fan of the J. Geils Band, that group’s vocalist, Peter Wolf, gave an entertaining and energetic performance with his current group, the Midnight Travelers. I also enjoyed the shows on the big stage by Kurt Vile and the Violators and Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin with the Guilty Ones.

In addition to all of the music, there was comedy — led as always by John Hodgman. Sadly, I missed out on all of that because of schedule conflicts with the live music. But I did find time to explore the art exhibits at Mass MoCA, which recently expanded. Chicago artist Nick Cave (not to be confused with the musician of the same name) has a massive installation called Until at the museum through August, which really shows what’s cool about this venue: With big rooms inside 19th-century factory buildings, it gives artist spaces where they try out big ideas. Here’s my video of a quick, three-minute walk-through of Cave’s installation:

Other noteworthy exhibits now on display include Jenny Holzer’s exploration of U.S. government’s torture victims at sites including Abu Ghraib. And there’s an interesting set of artworks by the musician Laurie Anderson, including huge drawings of dogs and some virtual reality environments she created. I spent 15 minutes immersed in one of those three-dimensional realms, and it was an odd and beguiling trip.

Of course, Solid Sound featured even more Wilco. On the second night, Wilco played a more typical concert. After opening with “At Least That’s What You Said,” the first song from the 2004 album A Ghost Is Born, Tweedy joked that, no, the band was not going to play that whole record: “We aren’t going to play any albums in their entirety tonight,” he said. “We’re going to play stuff from all our albums — except Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. If you like those albums, you should have been here last night.” During the song “Via Chicago,” Tweedy abruptly exclaimed, “Holy shit! What the fuck was that?” I was too far away to see what had happened, but other audience members later told me that a bat had swooped down near Tweedy’s face as he was singing. Later in the show, Tweedy joked that he’d been attacked by a falcon or a “predator drone,” and he said it was the most scared he’s ever been onstage. He recovered pretty quickly in that moment, though. (Set list.)

Wilco’s various side projects played during the festival, including the Autumn Defense performing its album Circles and closing with a Love cover. Nels Cline played complex and lyrical jazz guitar with a quartet that included his past collaborator, guitarist Julian Lage. And drummer Glenn Kotche’s group On Fillmore sounded great — from inside the museum, anyway, where I happened to be at the time.

Just as it did in 2015, Solid Sound concluded with a set by Tweedy & Friends. The first part of this performance featured the band called Tweedy. That was followed by a solo acoustic performance by Jeff Tweedy. And then numerous musicians joined in — including two of his sons: drummer Spencer Tweedy (of course) but also Sammy, who sang Graham Nash’s song “Military Madness.” With various members of Wilco and other bands filling the stage, Tweedy and his assembled friends sang “California Stars,” “Give Back the Key to My Heart” and “I Shall Be Released.” (Set list.) It was a fitting way to end this weekend of friendship and creativity.

Photos from June 23

Nancy and Beth (Stephanie Hunt and Megan Mullally)
Nancy and Beth (Stephanie Hunt and Megan Mullally)
Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin with the Guilty Ones
Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin with the Guilty Ones
Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin with the Guilty Ones
Nick Offerman introduces Wilco.

Photos from June 24

Kacy & Clayton
Kacy & Clayton
Kacy & Clayton
Joan Shelley
Joan Shelley
The Shaggs
The Shaggs
The Shaggs
Big Thief
Big Thief
The courtyard during Big Thief’s set
Deep Sea Diver
Max Hatt and Edda Glass
Peter Wolf and the Midnight Travelers
Peter Wolf and the Midnight Travelers
Peter Wolf and the Midnight Travelers
Kevin Morby

Kevin Morby
Joe’s Field during Television’s set
Robert Glasper Experiment
Robert Glasper Experiment
Kurt Vile and the Violators
Kurt Vile and the Violators

Photos from June 25

Daniel Bachman
Daniel Bachman
Andy Shauf
Andy Shauf
The Autumn Defense
The Autumn Defense

The Nels Cline Four
The Nels Cline Four
The Nels Cline Four
Tweedy and Friends

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds at Detroit’s Masonic Temple

Why did I go to Detroit to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, rather than attending their concert next week in Chicago? Well, for one thing, I wanted an excuse for a road trip to Detroit. But I also discovered that the tickets for Cave’s June 3 show at Detroit’s Masonic Temple were considerably cheaper than tickets for his June 16 show at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. Especially if I wanted to be up close to the stage, which is really the way to experience Cave in concert. I believe that the priciest Chicago tickets were more than $150, whereas similar tickets — for general admission on the main floor — were just $50 in Detroit. So off I went … and the trip was well worth it.

Cave is one of the most riveting live performers you will ever see, and he’s still at the top of his game. The last Cave show I saw — June 20, 2014, at the Milwaukee Theatre — was my favorite concert of that year.  In the three years since then, Cave experienced a personal tragedy: his 15-year-old son Arthur fell to his death from a 60-foot after freaking out on LSD. An almost overpowering sense of grief filled Cave’s achingly beautiful album last year, Skeleton Tree.

Considering what Cave has gone through over the past few years, I wondered if his live shows might be a more somber affair. As it turns out, the concerts Cave is performing on this tour with his stellar backing band, the Bad Seeds, are similar in many ways to his previous tour. He still spends a great portion of the concert leaning out over the audience, walking among his fans, walking and lying on top of his fans — allowing them to stretch their hands up toward him, and sometimes reaching out to hold their hands. It’s a strange communal act that feels deeply personal. One rarely sees an artist putting himself or herself into the hands of an audience like that.

Now, add the lingering sorrow over the tragedy in Cave’s life — something that was surely on the minds of many audience members — and the musical communion feels even more spiritual.

Cave began the concert sitting in a chair at the front of the stage, singing an exquisitely still “Anthrocene.” But then the intensity built over the next six songs, as he prowled the stage and the audience, singing “Jesus Alone,” “Magneto,” “Higgs Boson Blues,” “From Her to Eternity,” “Tupelo” and “Jubilee Street” — culminating with Cave proclaiming “I’m vibrating — look at me now!” It felt like the whole theater was vibrating.

Cave took down the drama a bit during some quieter songs in the middle of the set, but brought back the high energy again with songs including his concert staples “Red Right Hand” and, in the encore, “Stagger Lee.” The Bad Seeds brought all of the songs to life with an ever-shifting palette of sounds. Warren Ellis raged on violin and guitar, of course, but also manned the grand piano at many key moments. When someone in the audience shouted out their love for Ellis, Cave smiled and remarked, “He’s fucking adorable. I don’t know what it is.” His beard? No, Cave suggested — it’s his heart.

The set list included many songs from Cave’s two most recent albums, plus the core oldies you expect at any Cave show. It was nice to hear one deep cut, “Breathless,” from his 2004 album The Lyre of Orpheus. And just as he did back in 2014, Cave ended his show with the title song from his 2013 masterpiece Push the Sky Away. It’s a meditative tune without a drum beat, which would seem to make it an unusual choice for the climatic closing number, but somehow it works as the most powerful way to end the performance. As he did three years ago, Cave used this song as his moment to walk way out in the crowd with his microphone on a long cord, finally wading his way back through the audience — brushing against me as he went — onto the stage for his final bow.

Set list:

Anthrocene / Jesus Alone / Magneto / Higgs Boson Blues / From Her to Eternity / Tupelo / Jubilee Street / The Ship Song / Into My Arms / Girl in Amber / I Need You / Red Right Hand / The Mercy Seat / Distant Sky / Skeleton Tree
Encore: The Weeping Song / Breathless / Stagger Lee / Push the Sky Away

(I did not have photo credentials for this concert, so I didn’t have my regular camera gear with me. I managed to get these pictures with my iPhone; pardon the smaller-than-usual size.)

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds at the Milwaukee Theatre


Nick Cave was wearing a remarkable shirt. Dozens of hands pawed and pulled at its shiny gold fabric, twisting and tugging at its folds, but always it snapped back into place — slightly misshapen from the adoring caresses of Cave’s fans, but never torn. It was Friday night, June 20, inside the Milwaukee Theatre. It was the first time Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds had ever played a headlining gig in Milwaukee.

As he entered, he strutted across the stage with a confident swagger. And then, he came down to the very edge of the crowd, standing down a step or two from the stage. It looked like he was floating in a sea of hands. It was a ritual he repeated throughout the concert, presenting himself to his fans as if saying: Touch me. Go ahead. Do it. You know you want to. (I noticed one moment when he gestured for the fans to withdraw their fingers, just a few inches back.)

Throughout all of this seduction, Cave delivered his sardonic, sinister and sublime lyrics in his baritone — beckoning, boasting, pleading, wooing, warning, threatening, musing, narrating, shapeshifting — as the Bad Seeds kept on playing tense, spooky chords on the stage behind him.

For some reason, Cave isn’t making a Chicago stop on this tour. On Thursday night, I decided to buy a ticket for the show in Milwaukee. The opening set by Warpaint was fairly entertaining, though it paled in comparison with the fantastic performance that followed. After sitting in the mezzanine for a couple of songs, I followed other fans to the front of the auditorium, where people were standing in the aisles close to the stage. I did not have my camera with me, but I snapped a few blurry, grainy pictures with my cellphone. The collage of those images at the top of this blog post is the best I could manage under the circumstances.

Like last year’s concert at the Chicago Theatre, this one featured several songs from Cave’s most recent album, Push the Sky Away (my favorite record of 2013). And of course, the Bad Seeds played several of the old tunes that are staples of their concerts, like “Red Right Hand” and “Tupelo.” So in many ways, this 2014 concert was similar to that 2013 show — and yet, it all felt more intense.

Push the Sky Away is a brooding record with few moments of outright catharsis. The band seems to be holding itself back throughout the haunting, riveting set of songs. That restraint is part of makes the record so compelling. But in concert, the songs take on a new life.

One of those songs, “Jubilee Street,” became more thrilling and dramatic when Cave & the Bad Seeds played it last year. And this time, the drama doubled yet again. It was only the second song of the night, but when Cave reached the climatic words — “I’m transforming, I’m vibrating, I’m glowing, I’m flying, look at me now!” — he repeated them over and over as the Bad Seeds riffed harder and harder, stretching out the song by several minutes as Cave worked the crowd, bending down to let those outstretched fingers touch him.

Later, at the end of the main set, Cave descended from the stage and sang one song out in the midst of the audience. For this intimate moment, he chose the hushed, ghostly title track of Push the Sky Away.

When Cave returned for the encore, he played four songs, and it almost seemed like he might keep going longer. At an earlier point during the concert, after an especially wild guitar solo by the multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, Cave introduced Ellis, the most prominent musician in the Bad Seeds. But Cave never introduced the rest of the band members. It didn’t feel like a slight, however. Gesturing at the musicians assembled behind him, Cave simply said, “The Bad Seeds.” What more did he need to say, really?

We No Who U R / Jubilee Street / Tupelo / Red Right Hand / Mermaids / The Weeping Song / From Her to Eternity / West Country Girl / Into My Arms / People Ain’t No Good / Higgs Boson Blues / The Mercy Seat / Stagger Lee / Push the Sky Away
ENCORE: We Real Cool / The Lyre of Orpheus / Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry / The Ship Song

Favorite records of 2013

These are my favorite records of 2013, the ones I enjoyed the most. Betraying my personal tastes, the list is dominated by alt-country and artists working somewhere around that genre’s vague boundaries. Simply put, a lot of my favorite artists came out with new records in 2013, and a lot of those records were very good. My honorable mentions include quite a few records I wish I could have squeezed into my top 10 — and I wish there’d been enough time to listen more closely to hundreds more.



This is the quietest Nick Cave has made in a while, but it’s hardly mellow. In this tense and brooding suite of songs, Cave seems to be drifting in and out of dreams and unsettling nightmares, a world-weary traveler whose memories are slipping away. The fleeting images in his phantasmagoria flash with menace and yearning, climaxing in the epic “Higgs Boson Blues.”



The latest in a succession of masterpieces by one of the most accomplished singer-songwriters of the past decade and a half. Neko Case has said she drew more on her personal life for her lyrics this time, but the evocative poetry of her songs has always been a bit mysterious, and it remains so. Her voice is as beautiful as ever, too, surrounded here by an alluring variety of musical textures, including sonar blips, jingle bells, trumpets and cellos. Case seems to be creating her own genre, even as her innovative songs echo with the radio signal of classic tunes of the 20th century.


Many of the smart songs on this intimate, acoustic record could have been written in the 1930s, or maybe even the 19th century. With a couple of exceptions, they’re actually new, but this is music with a true old-timey spirit. Renaissance man Robbie Fulks pulls it off with apparent ease, drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of classic and obscure country, folk and bluegrass. He knows the old stuff, and how to make it new again.


As the title hints, this album feels like a nocturnal journey that flows with the logic of a dream. (In that way, it has a passing resemblance to the aforementioned Nick Cave record, though the two artists have distinct styles and personalities.) There’s a loose, jazzy vibe, punctuated at almost every turn by a singular guitar fill from Bill Callahan’s remarkable sideman Matt Kinsey. It all reaches shimmering perfection on my favorite song of 2013, “Summer Painter,” which finds Callahan musing on the meaning of work, as he sings about a summer job painting rich people’s boats. Then the story takes a turn toward the apocalyptic, when a hurricane hits and people blame the narrator: “Like all that time spent down by the water/had somehow given me control over the rain.” As peculiar as Callahan’s dreams may be, after a while, they start to seem like your own.



Like other records of the recent garage-rock explosion, Mikal Cronin’s second album is bursting with exuberance and energy. But it’s also carefully crafted, with a string section adding a touch of grandeur to all of its heartily strummed guitars and pounding drums. The spirit of late ’60s music is alive and well here. One song after another has the sort of melody that makes you want to sing along, thanks in no small part to the vulnerability in Cronin’s voice.



Dawn McCarthy has sung haunting harmonies on previous records by Bonnie “Prince” Billy, aka singer-songwriter Will Oldham. On this tribute to the Everly Brothers, they get equal billing. That’s apt, since the combination of these two voices was one of the year’s delights. The album doesn’t include Don and Phil Everly’s biggest hits, but the song list reminds us just how noteworthy that duo was. In the elegant folk-rock renditions on this record, what the brothers sang sounds beautiful and brand new.



David Bowie’s new album seemed to come out of nowhere. And it sounds like it came from another time and place — maybe the 1980s, maybe somewhere on Planet Bowie. This artist who’s legendary for his innovations and constantly shifting persona isn’t necessarily trying to invent anything new this time around, but it’s a batch of excellent songs. The dense rock-band-orchestra arrangements deliver one great hook after another with some wallop, but more than anything, it’s terrific to hear Bowie singing again, sounding like classic Bowie.



The former Drive-By Truckers singer-guitarist finally came into his own with this masterful album, striking a chord with memorable turns of phrase and the rueful wisdom of a man who’s made mistakes and learned from them.



Producer Jeff Tweedy’s clean, simple arrangements bring a warm glow to Mavis Staples’ glorious voice in this stirring set of gospel, soul and folk rock. The first song and the last are modern hymns (one written by Low, another by Tweedy), gracefully restrained prayers to the world.



A family album in musical form, with Steve Dawson’s memories filling each page like tantalizing old snapshots. This is the sound of a songwriter and a band at midlife, contemplating their past, present and future, and transforming it into beguiling ballads.


Molly Drake — Molly Drake
Yo La Tengo — Fade
Kelley Stoltz — Double Exposure
Veronica Falls — Waiting for Something to Happen
Laura Mvula — Sing to the Moon
Richard Thompson — Electric
Heavy Times — Fix It Alone
Cate Le Bon — Mug Museum
Low — The Invisible Way
Laura Marling — Once I Was an Eagle
Charles Bradley — Victim of Love
Waxahatchee — Cerulean Salt
Rose Windows — The Sun Dogs
Twin Peaks — Sunken
I Was A King — You Love It Here
Sam Phillips — Push Any Button
The Sadies — Internal Sounds
David Lang — Death Speaks
Laura Veirs — Warp and Weft
Superchunk — I Hate Music
The Cairo Gang — Tiny Rebels
Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood — Black Pudding
Cave — Threace
Patty Griffin — American Kid
My Bloody Valentine — m b v
The Handsome Family — Wilderness
The Liminanas — Costa Blanca
The National — Trouble Will Find Me
Arcade Fire — Reflektor
Chelsea Wolfe — Pain Is Beauty
Disappears — Era
Midlake — Antiphon
Thee Oh Sees — Floating Coffin
Various Artists — Good God! Apocryphal Hymns
Pelican — Forever Becoming
Rokia Traoré — Beautiful Africa
Black Bug — Reflecting the Light
Kronos Quartet/Bryce Dessner — Aheym
Phosphorescent — Muchacho
Shocked Minds — Shocked Minds
Ensemble Signal — Shelter
Alvin Lucier/Janacek Philarmonic Orchestra — Orchestral Works
Cass McCombs — Big Wheel and Others
Dobrinka Tabakova — String Paths
Frank Rosaly — Cicada Music
Savages — Silence Yourself
Bonnie “Prince” Billy — Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Kurt Vile — Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Nadia Sirota — Baroque
Jacco Gardner — Cabinet of Curiosities
Foxygen — We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Guided By Voices — English Little League
Mind Spiders — Inhumanistic
Ty Segall — Sleeper
Dumpster Babies — Dumpster Babies
Faun Fables — A Table Forgotten

Nick Cave at the Chicago Theatre

The real Stagger Lee, an African-American pimp named “Stag” Lee Shelton, killed a man in St. Louis on Christmas day, 1895, during an argument over a Stetson hat. The slaying became legendary thanks to a folk song called “Stack-a-Lee,” “Stacker Lee,” “Stagolee” or “Stagger Lee,” depending on who was spelling it out at any given time. Early versions of the song end with “poor, poor” Stagger Lee hanged and then hauled off to the cemetery via a “rubber-tired hearse” and “a lot of rubber-tired hacks.”

That’s not how the song ends when Nick Cave sings it. The 1996 version by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — actually, a loose interpretation of the old folk story, with new music written by Cave and six of his bandmates at the time — turns Stagger Lee into even more of a bad ass. Or to quote Cave’s twisted rendition of the words, “that bad motherfucker.”

By the time Cave & the Bad Seeds performed Monday night (April 1) at the Chicago Theatre, they had transformed Stagger Lee into an even more powerful, frightening demon of a man. In Cave’s live version of the song, the devil comes for Stagger Lee, and Stagger kills him, too. Cave was swaggering and writhing on the lip of the stage, lowering himself toward the outreached hands of the fans in front. The vulgar threats in the song’s lyrics (“suck my dick, because if you don’t, you’re sure to be dead”) became a leering come-on to the audience. Seeing someone in the crowd holding up a smartphone, Cave ad-libbed a new lyric: “In come the Devil with an iPhone in his hand.”

Nick Cave concerts are rarely, if ever, anything less than stellar. Monday’s show reaffirmed Cave’s breathtaking power as a live performer — and all the strengths of the versatile Bad Seeds ensemble. The new record by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away, is a brooding, moody set of songs. Much of it is quiet, but a tension rattles underneath the songs, as if they might burst into noise and apocalypse at any time. That expected catharsis never comes, but that doesn’t diminish the listening experience. If anything, it heightens the foreboding sense that something sinister is at play.

One of the new songs, “Higgs Boson Blues,” returns to the Satanic sort of blues Cave evokes in “Stagger Lee.” This time, Cave sings about the old legend about bluesman Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil, but the lyrics take a strange and unexpected journey into the world of pop celebrities including Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus. The song shows Cave at his most uninhibited as a songwriter. Like much of the album, “Higgs Boson Blues” feels like a phantasmagoria. (Dictionary definition: “a rapidly changing series of things seen or imagined, as the figures or events of a dream.”)

Cave and his band began the concert with four of the new songs, including a version of “Jubilee Street” that climaxed with a more rocking jam than the studio version, and a sprawling, dynamic “Higgs Boson Blues.” Then came a series of the Bad Seeds’ golden oldies, a smattering of piano ballads, and a staggering “Stagger Lee” to end the main set. (The Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot has the full set list at the end of his review.) The encore was a pounding “Tupelo” followed by one more song from the new record, the title track, an album closer that channels all of those disturbances and hallucinations into a shimmering meditation. And then the phantasmagoria shimmied out of view.

Grinderman at the Riviera

The concert by Grinderman Monday (Nov. 22) at the Riviera was one of the best I’ve seen this year. Not that this was surprising. Nick Cave hasn’t disappointed me yet in the five times I’ve seen him in concert. Is it possible Cave’s actually become more of a live wire as he’s gotten older? He certainly seems completely uninhibited as he commands the stage.

Monday’s concert was an improvement over the exciting but too short 2007 set by Grinderman at Metro. Now that Cave and his Grinderman mates have two strong albums’ worth of material to draw from, they were able to put on a true full-length concert. Warren Ellis, he of the long and shaggy beard, often went wild on his guitars and violin, making searing hot noises, the sort of solos that are more about one big, scratchy sound than the individual notes. Cave often played guitar, too (something he doesn’t usually do when he’s touring with the full Bad Seeds lineup), as well as grinding out some grimy-sounding notes on the keyboard. But more than anything else, Cave was pushing himself up against the crowd, letting the fans in front touch with him their hands as he spouted his funny, vulgar, erudite and/or raunchy lyrics.

Grinderman’s albums are almost but not quite non-stop rock, and the show was similar, whipping up even more intensity. Cave let out a few more blood-curdling screams than he does in the studio, and his bandmates sang the call-and-response backup vocals like people yelling for help in an emergency. Like a lot of Cave’s music, the Grinderman songs are rooted in the blues, but Cave and his cohort make a twisted, punk sort of blues.

See my photos of Grinderman on the Chicago Reader’s Photo Pit page.