There’s nothing on The Abattoir Blues Tour that amounts to much more than a lackluster b-side, bonus track, or DVD-ROM extra. Über Nick Cave fans (and there are oodles of us) will be nonplussed by this multi-disc set’s inessentiality, even though Cave’s garbage is still preferable to most other artists’ treasures. It seems like Abattoir Blues Tour is an attempt to drum up renewed interest in 2004’s Abattoir Blues/Lyre Of Orpheus, which deserved much more critical acclaim than it got, or maybe it’s supposed to prep listeners for next month’s Grinderman album, the Cave side project which is supposed to revisit the gnarly post-punk of The Birthday Party. Either way, Abbatoir Blues Tour sure doesn’t stand well on its own merits.
Putting aside the fact that Live At The Paradiso is a better concert with better material (and it’s still in print), and that the lineup, arrangements, camera work, and even the suits Cave wears on the Abattoir Blues Tour live footage are really similar to what’s seen in the God Is In The House video (which is also still in print), this collection just doesn’t document Cave at the top of his game. On the CDs, sans Cave’s commanding visual presence, it’s clear that he’s struggling to hit the notes; that’s been a problem ever since he started singing tenor on No More Shall We Part. The wavering and missed notes (and occasionally dropped lyrics) wouldn’t be an issue if the backup singers—the gospel choir which rocked Abattoir Blues—weren’t so consistently on key. And Cave’s mad prophet persona, so well documented in Wings Of Desire, is barely realized in these recordings and videos. Prophets generally get the words right and are inspired or inspiring: here Cave sounds more like a guy at a karaoke bar than the voice of the twisted preacher at the center of “Tupelo” or the seducer of “Babe You Turn Me On.” Even Wim Wenders would have trouble filming Cave’s flustered, though impassioned, readings.
There’s a lot of old promo stuff on the DVDs, including some videos shot by John Hillcoat, suggesting that some of this material might be better suited to juicing up the Proposition DVD. A short film about the recording of the Abattoir/Orpheus record touches briefly on Blixa Bargeld’s departure and features some pretty amazing sound bites (Cave says listening to his songs requires a “sort of intestinal fortitude”). There’s also the bizarre video for “Babe I’m On Fire” (readily available on most copies of Nocturama), in which the band plays dress-up, and some other low-budget promos for Nocturama. Some of this footage is great to look at but, like the live clips, absolutely none of it is illuminating. Cave is still the coolest Australian Old Testament-citing rocker-balladeer in the game, but The Abattoir Blues Tour might just be the worst piece of Cave miscellany you could drop 30 bucks on. I wish I’d just reread And The Ass Saw The Angel instead.