The Birthday Party Live 81 - 82 is a compilation CD of live recordings by the post punk band The Birthday Party.
The CD is a selection of songs that spans the bands short career and features live recordings taken from three concerts; London 1981, Bremen 1982 and Greece 1982.
The album features the following line up -
Nick Cave - Vocals
Mick Harvey - Guitars and Drums
Rowland S Howard - Guitar
Phill Calvert - Drums
The only addition to this line up is Jim Thirwell who plays Saxophone on the albums closing track.
There are 17 tracks on this album and the first 10 are taken from a gig in The Venue in 1981 (which was also the same Venue that the band played there last ever gig).
The first ten tracks have a great sound to them and have been remixed and re-mastered by members of the band.
The CD opens with "Junkyard" which is originally appeared on the album of the same name. The song is a slow grinding track and the thick condensed bass riff pushes this song along at a faster pace than its studio counterpart. It's a strong performance though does lose intensity and atmosphere due to the increased pace. The song used to be called "Junkyard King" and was a much faster rockabilly sounding tune, but it later mutated into this more grim and dark song.
Next up is the manic song "A dead song" which was always a live favourite and a crowd rib bruiser. The song is a fast tribal number and the drum tom work is really impressive and incredibly tight. Nick give's the song 100% and the guitar work is phenomenal with guitar wails and loops blasting out like a demented Zulu soundtrack.
Nicks deadpan humour kicks in as he jibes at the audience "Thank you, I like you hairstyle too!" as the band launch into a personal favourite of mine titled "Dim Locator" The song unlike the others is more restrained and has slowed down to a cool Jazz swing. The song's cymbals and bass conjure up a demented sleazy backing track whilst Rowlands lead riff nervously swerves in and out of the mix. It's a good performance though quite close to the studio version and offers little variance.
We're back in tribal land for the next track "Zoo Music Girl". The song is a rumble of Tom Drums and Rowland's trademark guitar howl. The song stops and starts like a game of pass the parcel and its aural ferocity is relentless. Nick growls "My life is a box full of dirt" as the audience all sing along with the chorus chants. Once again it's quite close to the studio recording though the guitars are slightly quieter on this version (which is odd as the remix was by guitarist Rowland and he must have broken the usual guitarist studio trait of turning everything up to 11!).
The band first hit (said in a very loose way) is up next. "Nick the stripper" which is a template for the Birthday Party sound; deep driving bass, tribal drums, howling feedback guitars and the bawling dulcet tones of Mr Cave. This version sounds so close to the original studio version that it could have been a record playing through the PA. It's a great song though and this version is fine.
The next two songs "Blast Off!" and "Release the bats" are live versions of these two songs that were responsible for the band attaining the gothic genre label. Unfortunately "Blast Off" suffers a little live as the Omen-styled samples that added edge to the studio track are not used in the live environment and are replaced with a tremolo guitar instead. It is an enjoyable wall of noise but lacks the tension and ambience of the studio version. However "Release the bats" is a different kettle of fish and we are back on swashbuckling audio territory here with a rumbling tribal song that is further improved by Nick's high pitched squawks and screams.
"Bully Bones" was a song that could previously only be heard as a session track from the John Peel radio show. The song is quite tame when compared to other tracks on the CD. It has a great bass groove and Nick delivery a restrained and musical vocal.
Rowland and Mick fill the song with some clever angular and sharp guitar wizardry and the song is a pleasant break from the previous aural assault.
A long version of "King Ink" is up next and this is a really slow and claustrophobic track. The drums are deep and muddy and the bass is locked into a tight riff. Nick's vocals are fierce and he cackles a depressing narrative of the songs imaginary subject.
Not dissimilar in sound from "Nick the Stripper" there is little contrast when compared to the studio version.
The last song from the London gig is "Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn" and the band fuse Jazz and tribal rhythms into a bedraggled and tormented song that could be Adam and the Ants after ten bottles of Tequila. This song sounds great and is only slightly bettered by the John Peel session version (which can be bought separately on a BBC CD).
The next six songs are taken from a 1982 gig in Bremen, Germany. They have apparently been taken straight from tape and have had no re-mastering. They lack the excellent clarity of the previous songs but are a good representation of the bands live sound at that juncture in their career.
"Big Jesus Trashcan" opens the proceedings and it is the most bastardised jazz swagger that you are ever likely to encounter. The studio version of this song is definitive and despite the great music and vocals on this version it does sound a little pale by comparison.
If you blink then you will miss the next track "Dead Joe" as its short. It's probably the fastest song on the album and features a two note riff where Nick spits and whines about the spectacle of a car crash. The guitars are much quieter on this track than the excellent album studio version and some of the songs tension and appeal is lost as a result. Fortunately Nick delivers a fearsome vocal and redeems the song a little.
The next song is a version of an early band single named "The Friend Catcher". The song used to be played by the band in their previous incantation The Boys Next Door and was a much zippier and poppy sound. Here we find the song slowed right down into a nervous and twitchy number. The bass is low and deep and the drums follow quietly in its shadow. The dual guitars add further depth and Nick's vocal delivery is fiery yet contained. The highlight of this song is the last 30 seconds where the guitars generate a wall of feedback that sounds like you've got your head trapped in a wind tunnel.
The next song "6 inch Gold Blade" is another slow song in the same musical vein as its predecessors. It is a good taster of the style that Nick would embrace and develop in his following solo career. The song lyrics sing a tale of murder and despair and the music adds to this imagery and conjures up a scary ambience.
The next track "Hamlet Pow Pow Pow" sees's the band once again in tribal jazz mode and everything is played to hideous excess. In fact it was no surprise that the bands career was short as they burnt with such brightness that they had nowhere left to musically explore. It's a fast and furious song and has Nick bellowing like he's swallowed a hornets nest.
"She's hit" brings the selection of the Bremen recorded songs to a rest and its quite appropriate as its slow moody charm is a great close to its sonic predecessor. The guitars wail in sorrow, the drums plod at a staggered pace as the bass guitar swings and gurgles in a moribund manner. Nick's vocals on this sound both tortured and isolated.
The albums closing track is belting cover of the Stooges track "Funhouse" which is taken from a 1982 gig in Athens, Greece. It starts with the bass riff that is punchy and locks into a solid groove. The guitars howl and growl over the top and feedback in a painful excess that the late Ron Asheton would be proud of. There are random saxophone wails from Foetus's Jim Thirwell and Nick's vocals are so loud in the mix that the whole track distorts! Despite the rough mix it is possibly the only track on the album that truly captures the bands devastating live experience.
The Birthday Party were one of the few bands that managed to capture the power and mayhem of their live shows onto their studio recordings and this live album suffers slightly as a result of this.
The selection of songs is good as they cover all of the bands styles and are presented in a warts-n-all manner. The audio clarity and production of the album is good too but despite all of this there is little difference between the majority of the live songs and their studio siblings. There is little talk between tracks which is a shame as Nick's dry sense of humour was an integral part of the live experience.
So is it worth buying?
If you are a fan of the band then it's a nice CD to have to remind you of their musical greatness. By contrast f you're new to the band then it acts as a good introduction as the CD covers songs from across the bands lifespan.
Greatest hits? No! Great songs? Yes!
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2009
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Dead Song
3 Dim Locator
4 Zoo Music Girl
5 Nick The Stripper
6 Blast Off
7 Release The Bats
8 Bully Bones
9 King Ink
10 Pleasure Heads Must Burn
11 Big Jesus Trash Can
12 Dead Joe
13 Friend Catcher
14 6" Inch Gold Blade
15 Hamlet (Pow Pow Pow)
16 She's Hit