On The Street - May 1983
The Birthday Party - Live
Sydney Trade Union Club - May 13, 1983
And so there we were in the giant washing machine. Eventually X finished playing-thank God! 'cause when you've come to see The Birthday Party, that's all you're there to see and for tonight at least, everything else is simply to be endured.
Now its time to make your way to the front to get as close to the Birthday Party as possible-feel the excitement building in the crowd-a half hour passes and your feet are beginning to hurt-the lights go out and after a while Rowland Howard walks on stage to check his equipment and then walks off again-the crowd is beginning to get restless now, people are starting to push and suddenly the washing machine is turned on, waves of people splashing against waves of people, whilst the more determined lumps of dirt filter their way slowly down towards the stage.
Now there's this crazy guy standing a few feet away from me, looking utterly demonic and yelling "Birthday Party-Devils Party" at the empty stage. I look confusedly at this fella, he's beginning to worry me-this is all good clean fun, isn't it, I think to myself insecurely feeling like I'm about to pass out from lack of air and anticipation and suddenly there they are-before you even know what's happening, the Party has begun with a snarling and convulsive rendition of 'Hamlet, POW! POW! POW!'. Nick Cave is standing there, dressed in black, looking like he hasn't slept in weeks, a tattered cloth half mast on his skinny arm-and funnily enough, he does seem to look like a Prince of Darkness, the king of the fothig, foaming underworld of twisted bodies, of 'Loves ugly children...' (the sidewalk regrets) Without letting up, it's straight into 'Wild World', which soars-there is such immense pathos in the way Nick sings this song.
'don't TOUCH me...don't PUSH me and don't push my wild world, HEY!' It moves me deeply. The very world threatens to break assunder the force of it.
The next song is a new one, something about 6 string guitars and the bands momentum begins to ebb away. Mick Harvey's replacement Des Heffner, can't quite match the intensity of his playmates, although he's doing his best (poor bugger!). This is followed by another new one 'Jenny's Veil', which also doesn't quite take off.
Nick Cave doesn't seem to invest either of these two songs with the blood and sweat of his soul-he's tired (don't let this dishrag body fall). At this point, fans of The Birthday Party (myself included) begin to register a sense of disappointment. But the simple fact of the matter is that performers can't be expected to produce their best performances every night. If that's what you expected, then you may have been disappointed-which is unfortunate, because The Birthday Party were confronting in quite an unexpected way tonight and left a more lasting impression on me then either of the two subsequent Trade Union Club gigs-even though the Party probably played better on those nights. The operative word here is Pathos (not necessarily contrived). This gig ain't over yet.
'Mmmmm...the woods eats the woman and dumps her honey body into the mud...' And there's fire in the furnace yet, as the Birthday Party re-ignite with 'Deep in the Woods' and blister audience skin with 'Fears of Gun'. Maybe Nick is being capricious tonight, only getting it together on the songs he can identify with the most-coz both of these songs cut deep.
'So pay witness to Sonny's burning'
And then something totally unexpected happened. The band lurched shakily into 'Dead Joe' and were about a minute into the song, before Nick Cave collapsed on stage-the band stopped, everybody looked at each other and at the stage, Rowland Howard looked furiously at Nick Cave, as Nick took time out to pull himself together.
Without knowing quite what to expect next, the band moved uneasily into 'Junkyard' and suddenly exploded into life again, with Tracy Pew bashing the head of his guitar into Heffner's symbols (UP! UP! UP! GET UP!) 'I am the king, I AM THE KING!'. This was the most exciting moment of the gig-Cave's delivery of 'Junkyard' was absolutley terrifying, the dizzy heights that it reached, heightened by the rock bottom that the Party had hit only moments before. 'And he gives off such an evil heat-FLAME ON!'
However, unable to sustain this energy, the Birthday Party finished the gig with a convoluted version of 'She's Hit', that meandered somewhat limply to a close and then the gig was over-a fact that the stunned audience seemed incapable of comprehending for some minutes, until someone put a tape through the P.A. The air is thick with contradictory and conflicting emotions-no-one I know can say anything, and bodies shuffle homeward, anxious to avoid having to give post mortem's.
'I think it's essential for any performer...for any artist...to be able to fail as poignantly as they succeed', said Nick Cave in a recent interview of 2JJJ. And strangely this was exactly why The Birthday Party managed to evoke so much more tonight than any of their other Sydney shows and paradoxically why this show was more successful. In a away the Birthday Party are 'theatrical'-but this performance cuts through that veneer, leaving it in tatters, with the ugly face of Birthday Party reality peeping ominously through. 'Like this is TRUE', nice boys don't play rock'n'roll. The Birthday Party aren't nice boys anymore. It's a WILD WORLD, HEYYY!
- Robert L. Miller