NME - September 12, 1981
THE BIRTHDAY PARTY - Africa Centre, London
A strange venue for a strange group. Crammed into a hall that is more used to hearing discussions on African culture, politics and poetry are a motley collection of after-dark dancers, anticipating the arrival of a group who have been compared to The Pop Group and The Cramps.
"Welcome to The Birthday Party. Forty five minutes of sheer hell."
Nick Cave does indeed look like a skinny Lux Interior as he introduces the group, an odd assortment of Australian reptiles in checked shirts and the occasional Stetson. Their sound bursts from the tiny stage like a primordial beast shedding the chains of convention - a nightmarish Gothic brew of Beefheartian wordplay and nerve-jangling guitars stirred into a bubbling rhythmic broth.
Whatever reservations I have about their 'Prayers On Fire' LP are immediately dispelled by their dynamic performance. There is wildness in the air, a feral psychosis that owes as much to the modern notion of paranoia as it does to a prehistoric, animal instinct of survival.
Cave's voice seems to come from somewhere else; it's hard to believe his slender frame can accomodate the relentless howl that screeches, screams and throbs its way around the sexual/surrealistic lyrics. Obsessions scuttle, slither and crawl through the songs like so many nasty little creatures - insects, fish, bugs, and bats are predominant images - reinterpreting the 'normal' rock concerns of sex, sadism and sacrifice.
Yet despite their apparent strangeness, The Birthday Party are a lot of fun. They give so totally in performance that questions of approachability and involvement go flying out of the window. Their unrestrained enjoyment in playing creates a positively organic atmosphere - a steaming jungle in which you can laugh yourself silly or be scared to death.
The Birthday Party are genuine (ab)originals. Watching them is a bit like standing too close to a firework - dangerous but compulsive. Light blue touch paper and stand near.
- Neil Norman