For a group who spent most of their lifespan looking and sounding like farmyard animals, [B]The Birthday Party's[/B] ascent to legendary status has been remarkably assured. But...
For a group who spent most of their lifespan looking and sounding like farmyard animals, The Birthday Party’s ascent to legendary status has been remarkably assured. But then from the moment they landed in London in March 1980 to their final grisly demise in Berlin in winter 1983, they were the living embodiment of vitriolic, life-as-art, self-destruction.
In [a]Nick Cave[/a], the band had a singer with thwarted literary and artistic ambitions, who channelled all his frustrations into creating a fantasy world of grotesque self-mythology. If punk had stripped music to its raw essentials, and made it into a soundtrack of the mundane then it was Cave who expanded its horizons with his twisted storytelling that sucked in everything from [I]Hamlet [/I]to Elvis.
Live, The Birthday Party were a vaudevillian display of high volume and extreme violence, determined to force a reaction. They would fight the crowd and fight each other. Cave would squirm and scream and sing like a constipated troll. Bassist Tracy Pew would drunkenly perform crotch-thrusts in tight leather trousers and an oversized Stetson. Once he OD’d before he even reached the stage. Like The Stooges, they were intent on making the most brutal, confrontational noise imaginable.
All of which is rather difficult to capture on tape. There have been live Birthday Party albums in the past, but this is the first one to be “band approved”. What that means is 17 tracks spread across 74 minutes and three countries. The visual spectacle is lost, the sound is often muffled, but the jokes remain intact: “This is ‘Funhouse’. It’s by a group called The Stooges. They’re from Italy.” Cue: eight minutes of screaming saxophone.
You don’t need to hear this. But the thing is, they really were brilliant.