Pop Philosophy

Kicking against the pricks

I had an odd thought while attending the second of two Nick Cave shows at the Palace of Fine Arts last week: What if all the black clothing in the world suddenly disappeared? For one thing, there'd be a lot of naked people in that room. Looking around the theater, I felt adrift in a sea of creatively charged uniformity. All these people were trying so hard to be individuals, but they just ended up looking like everyone else -- and with so little humor, too.

Comedy isn't something many folks associate with Cave. After all, the Australian-born singer did compose an entire suite of songs devoted to the fine art of manslaughter (1996's Murder Ballads). Few people this side of Chuck Manson would guffaw at bloodcurdling tunes like "The Mercy Seat" or Cave's mother-fucking rewrite of "Stagger Lee." Of course, his dark persona is the reason most fans swear by him; it's also what makes him a bit, well, silly. Just how many years can you go on warbling about God and infidelity and the brutality of man against man? (In Cave's case, 21 and counting.) On his new album with the Bad Seeds, No More Shall We Part, he seems to be letting the light in a bit, mentioning kittens on two songs and a brown cow on another. "Love Letter," a simple love song with a beautiful rolling piano bit, is downright pretty, and "God Is in the House" is practically a comedy tune -- albeit a rather black one. In the latter number, Cave tells of a small town that purges such troublemakers as "Well-meaning little therapists/ Goose-stepping 12-stepping teetotalitarianists/ The tipsy the reeling and the drop-down pissed," a town that paints its kittens white so as to gain the forgiveness of a reticent higher power.

At the show, such levity was short-lived. "God" was followed by the more typical sentiment of "People Ain't No Good" and "Wild World," a song from Cave's previous band, the Birthday Party. While I'm as much of a misanthrope as the next hardened soul, I couldn't help but feel that, taken as a whole, these murky songs seemed a tad put on. Cave himself appeared rather jolly and looked pretty damn healthy at the show. It's not that I wanted to see Jeffrey Dahmer up there singing about the electric chair, but Cave looks positively unthreatening these days. Maybe the placid atmosphere was the fault of the plush theater seats, the adoring audience, or the way violinist Warren Ellis lounged on the floor during songs. Or maybe it's best to leave the terror to the people who know it best -- say, bullet-dodging kids in San Diego.

Without bad luck he'd have no luck at allMost artists go to South by Southwest to make it big, or at least to drink a lot of beer and rub elbows with fellow stargazers. No one goes with the intention of seeing the inside of the emergency room or acquiring a career-threatening injury. Unfortunately, that's what happened to David Knupp.

Knupp, guitarist and mandolinist for two local up-and-coming country- ish bands, Joe Buck and the Darling Clementines, didn't have any gigs scheduled at this year's festival. "Joe Buck had played shows in Austin last year, and we loved the city and made some friends," Knupp says via phone from his San Francisco home. "So I said, "Well, hell, I'll go anyway.'"

Knupp went to see his friend's S.F. jazz act, the Golden Arm Trio, perform at a club called the Elephant Bar. After standing for much of the night, Knupp spied a recently vacated barstool and sat on it. Later, and for no apparent reason, the stool collapsed and sent him sprawling to the floor. Reaching out to break his fall, Knupp put his hand through an empty pint glass.

When Knupp arrived at the hospital, the doctor discovered that he had cut three tendons and severed a nerve. After waiting a week, he entered surgery -- and stayed for nine hours. "There was more damage than they expected," Knupp says.

The injury couldn't have come at a worse time, since both bands were planning to go into the studio soon. Joe Buck was getting material together to follow up last year's promising self-titled debut, while the Darling Clementines were hoping to record an EP this summer.

"It's a setback, definitely," Knupp says in a grim tone. "I could be out from six months to forever."

For now, Knupp must get used to a cast on his arm and the idea that he may not play again. But he's trying to keep his hopes up: "Hey, Django Reinhardt had only two fingers [on one hand]; Jimi Hendrix played with his teeth."

 
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