The Birthday Party

Pleasure Heads Must Burn

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Pleasure Heads Must Burn Review

by Wilson Neate

"You really don't deserve this," Nick Cave says just before throwing himself headlong into "Dead Joe" at Manchester's Hacienda. Although it's not immediately apparent whether he's apologizing to the audience or reproaching them, it's an entirely appropriate preamble to the punishing set that ensues. The Birthday Party's uncompromising, assaultive sound restored a refreshing element of danger to rock music in the early '80s and the performances captured on Pleasure Heads Must Burn make many of their punk predecessors look rather tame by comparison. Few of the Birthday Party's peers could match the band in terms of raw intensity and this live material (dating mostly from 1982 and 1983 Hacienda gigs) makes that absolutely clear. Cave's at his manic, dissolute best here, all legs and hair, haranguing the crowd with his relentlessly warped meditations on sex, God, and murder, while the band plays on the brink of chaos. Watched in the comfortable surroundings of your own home years after the fact, the spectacle of the Birthday Party live is still powerful and compelling, whether they're slogging through fraught dirges like "Wild World" or pummeling the crowd with frantic versions of "Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow)" and "Release the Bats." While the concert footage makes for a remarkable document, the 1981 MTV-unfriendly video for "Nick the Stripper" alone justifies the price of admission: a diaper-clad Cave prances around some sort of Satanic garden party, complete with fires, pigs' heads, assorted grotesques, an executioner, and a crucified Christ; Cave even shares a tender moment with a goat. Cherry Red's DVD reissue features several extra clips, including a truly shambolic in-studio performance of "Junkyard" on Dutch TV -- memorable largely for cowboy-leatherman bassist Tracy Pew's lewd and sinister pelvic gymnastics routine, which makes Elvis look like a choirboy.

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