NME - March 13, 1982
THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
The Venue, London - March 5, 1982
Things weren't looking bright. The Birthday Party's bassist, Tracy Pew, is back home doing time on a labour farm, and his temporary replacement, Barry Adamson, had only had one rehearsal.
But all fears were promptly allayed by a volley of intense and hectic songs which reduced most of the spectators to speechlessness. Let us make certain things clear from the start: The Birthday Party appal by revelling in the pain of artifice - the desperate drive of will to emotion through exhibition. Theirs is a genuinely ritualistic theatre of frustration, a farrago of sound so visceral it can only produce gestures of exhaustion and despair. Some terrible void at the heart of human energy has been reached here.
On Friday night, the group revisited their surreal junkyard of forms and images with a higher intoxication than ever. That forlorn and shimmering ballad 'She's Hit' has taken on added starkness and splendour, perfectly brought out on this occasion by Adamson's languorous bass. Previously unheard were 'Dead Joe' and 'Hamlet', two brutal, mythopoeic parables shorn even of the group's usual semi-jazz structures: here rhythm is compressed to a disconcerting on-beat stiffness and vocals to a mere gutteral rambling. The effect is compulsive. Some of the earlier numbers still prove troublesome, for there's no doubt that more than one of the group's arrangements outstrip their current musical capabilities. 'Zoo-Music Girl', for example, has grown too shambolic for its own good.
Chaos, however, is The Birthday Party's speciality. With the stage in its normal state of disarray, bouncers and stage-hands scrambling about madly in pursuit of overturned microphones and tripped wires, Nick Cave was at his most gloriously irresponsible. So perfect a parody is he of the rock'n'roll egomaniac that he possesses an almost intimidating innocence.
This group is an explosion of sensuality and laughter at the desensitised mediocrity of our lives. They are our new Rolling Stones, but holding back their profiles in shadow, in the penumbra of myth. In them jazz races with punk and rock'n'roll slips on funk, a collision of forms whose domain is lust suspended in th timeless zone of excess - bodily exhumation and spiritual disease. Here Jerry Lee Lewis meets 'The Modern Dance', and sex meets death.
Who else is using words so stridently as a musical medium of rhetoric? They are the religious conflagration of melos itself.
- Barney Hoskyns