How I’ve gone this long without seeing Nick Cave live is beyond me, especially since I’ve always… well, “always been a fan” wouldn’t be accurate. (I own three of his albums.) More truthful would be to say that Nick Cave’s music has never, ever irritated me. Considering Cave’s extensive output, that’s saying something. Combine it with the full-blown “holy shit” moments his songs have given to me—like hearing “Nobody’s Baby Now” while nursing a $1 PBR at EJ’s in Portland, in 1997—well, Nick Cave finally demanded to be seen live.
If you’ve seen him, you know. If you haven’t, imagine a rail-thin circus ringmaster whipping a band of lions not out of but into aggressiveness. A flamboyant offspring of Valentino and Satan, Cave channels 55 years of romantic bandwidth into sharp, stinging things called “songs,” which are more like forays across continents than things you might sing in the shower. These forays are not for the faint of heart, or, evidently, for the young: tonight, he had a children’s choir backing him up, and when they exited the stage, they covered their ears and looked terrified.
The Black Keys – Attack & Release (Nonesuch): I’d always written off these guys as a retro act, because for years that’s essentially what they were. But for this completely excellent album, they’ve dropped all ties to Cream and sound off with fresh sonic fabric: there’s organ, flute, tambourine, piano, bass clarinet, and the whole thing has an incredibly warm, organic quality to it that their last album lacked. The songs are great, Marc Ribot and Ralph Carney are on it, Danger Mouse doesn’t cheese it up too hard and the whole thing’s a slam dunk. If this is the new white boy blues, sign me up.
Nick Cave – Dig, Lazarus, Dig! (Anti-): Homeboy is on a roll. I loved Abbatoir Blues, didn’t care for Grinderman, but this is back on track. “Moonland” has that great brooding quality, and there’s a few litanies with spoken-sung lyrics, as in “We Call Upon the Author.” Not too many people can pull off the sermon thing the way Nick Cave does, and he gets downright Dylanesque on the 8-minute closing cut, “More News From Nowhere.”
Boredoms – Super Roots 9 (Thrill Jockey): Other than Seadrum / House of Sun, there’s been no existing recording of the Boredoms that comes close to capturing the band’s mind-blowing live shows. Until now. This live set, from 2004, has the three-drummer setup with Yamatsuka Eye on electronics and—get this—a 24-piece choir. If you’ve been longing for more of the drum-based pounding that the Boredoms plunged headlong into at the turn of the millennium, pick this up.
Man Man – Rabbit Habits (Anti-): This will inevitably get compared to Tom Waits, but that’s not fair to either Waits nor Man Man. Sure, there’s circus elements, gravelly vocals, and stompy bluesy tracks (“Big Trouble”), but on the whole this is just a really quirky, creative record. Yes, the guitarist has obviously been studying his Ribot (“Easy Eats or Dirty Doctor Galapagos”) and the vocalist goes into those high squeaks that Waits nails so well (“Top Drawer”) but I don’t think Waits fans will find a lot here to embrace. It’s more of a Sleepytime Gorilla Museum thing.
Mountain Goats – Tallahassee (4AD): The victory of this day is beyond instant human comprehension, my friends. The Mountain Goats’ Tallahassee, after six years, has finally been released on vinyl. Praise almighty, 4AD! This was the second greatest album released in the year 2002 and remains the best Mountain Goats album by far. One of the most mesmerizing opening songs ever—such construction, such poetry—and “No Children” will fuck you up so badly you won’t know what hit you. Get this, get this, get this.