2008 PLUG Awards – Dizzee Rascal and Nick Cave

Last night I had my hands on a ticket to the PLUG Independent Music Awards on Thurs night. The show sold out in minutes, weeks ago.

Why? Who cares about a bunch of self-involved hipsters congratulating each other and engaging in petty rivalries in the tiny, overheated faux-mom’s-basement world of alt/indie music?

No one does. Host Patton Oswalt could barely keep the crowd focused on the awards, delivered via self-consciously lo-fi, yet still painful and pitiful graphics projected on what strongly resembled a 70s filmstrip screen.

Everyone in the place was there to see DIZZEE RASCAL and NICK CAVE. (So skip to the bold if that’s all you care about!)

First, a nice set by St. Vincent, whose super-cute, minute, black-haired vocalist won best Female Artist. Mixing a rather Robert Plant-like “In the Evening”-style delivery into songs that started melodic and devolved into arrhythmic screechy noise, St. Vincent managed to evoke Sonic Youth without actually sounding like them. Or as good as them, tho’ my companion liked them quite a bit more than I did. Next, the Forms delivered a limp and forgettable set, while I got some free candy in the ladies’ room. Not THAT kind– there were bowls of sponsor Dell’s Funtime chocolate wafer bars. Ewwww-w-w-w-w. Tasty food, bathroom stalls. That’s a bad equation there, young marketing whizzes.

Jose Gonzalez, nominee for best “Americana” album or artist or something, sat lonely in a spotlight strumming his acoustic guitar.

Much hyped, much loved, Jose and his “Americana” cohorts mystify me. I just want to pull a John Belushi-on-the-stairs with those children’s fucking acoustic guitars. Stop fucking gazing into the distance and plucking melancholic tunes. Just STOP. Stalwart concert-going pal Leyla turned to me during the set and said, “I just keep thinking Jose Feliciano.”

Dizzee Rascal finally took the stage.

in a cool black t-shirt and white cap (cap back of course), he delivered a blistering four-song set. The first tune was only a snippet; the second, with its lyrics “on the 3s and 4s” got stronger and stronger. By the time he was folding, flipping, and twisting the English language, putting it thru paces and places it has not been before, the crowd was roaring. Last song, his hit “Fix Up, Look Sharp” (an MTV Shortlist winner in 2005), picked up maniacal speed and perfect cadence – and ended.

I saw Dizzee gesturing off backstage left — looked like he asked for more time, but no go. He marched off stage right to the only calls of “Encore” heard all night. Really sucked, cuz by all reports he tore up the place at every British festival where he appeared last summer. That kind of brilliance onstage throws massive shade on everything else – and last night was pretty dim already.

Stalwart concert-going pal Leyla begged off at 9:45, as the dull, dull show droned on. Oh, the pain!

But at 9:50 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds took the stage for a nine-song, 45-minute set that was worth all the waiting.

Nick’s menacing, hollow, booming delivery hasn’t changed too much over the years. (I’ve been a fan since Birthday Party days, when oh yes, I thought he was so ugly fucking crazy dirty hot. Reorder those adjectives anyway you want, and they still work.)

Stalking the stage last night, still cadaverously slim but sporting a VERY unfortunate porn stache below his megalocephalic expanse of forehead, Cave called up images of lone, tubercular, Western gunmen, as his theatrical baritone intoned images of blood, murder, the Sandman, little children, God, and the rest of his particular, peculiar Gothic universe.

Cave does American and calls out the dark in it, something the youngsters twee-dling their way thru Iron & Wine and Jose Gonzalez don’t. It’s not lace and loneliness and winsome sad trailerparks, nor sweet bluebirds of Appalachia, it’s black-hearted men and women and violence and greed. It’s the “Deadwood” aesthetic over a punk beat, with some powerful rock ‘n’ roll guitar pounding down the nails. Cave’s always been able to find that edgy echo to his Australian outlaw wilderness in our American West.

For the fans: set opened with “Midnight Man,” followed by the excellent, rather post-modern lyrics of “We Call Upon the Author” and its insistent chorus demanding an “offer to EXPLAIN.” Next, “Red Right Hand” (with some fine snake-oil theatrical arm gestures) from 2004’s Abbatoir Blues featured two crashing climaxes, mid-song and end. Then “Tupelo,” with its images of “the Sandman.. . the little children know,” and the refrain “Oh God help Tupelo” brought out the eerie. “Lie Down Here and Be My Girl” next, and as we commented on Cave’s dark, cautionary tales, what’s up next but Cave’s stupendous interpretation of “Stagger Lee” with a “bucket of blood,” a Colt .45 and a deck of cards. And at last, a rollicking encore of “More News from Nowhere.”

More news from nowhere; well, LOL — you can find that list of PLUG award-winners elsewhere. I was there for the show.

oh, also appearing:

The National (whom I like – see my review of their South Street Seaport show this summer) showed up to actually claim an award, as did a mega-weird fave of mine, Battles (also reviewed here re: their South Street Seaport show). YAWNNNNNN.

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