At around noon on Thursday, September 15, local four-piece Cave kicked off a show on the back of a flatbed truck. They played their first couple of tunes parked at the Logan Square Monument and then headed southeast on Milwaukee to the intersection of North and Damen, driving at a gingerly ten miles per hour with the truck's hazard lights flashing. They planned to finish their set parked in front of the Double Door, but they were so loud—they used the same setup they do onstage, with their three amps powered by a generator on the truck—that the police intervened to stop the music just as Cave wrapped up a 14-minute rendition of "This Is the Best." All told they played for about half an hour.
"It was difficult, but it was fun," says synth player Dave "Rotten Milk" Pecoraro, 30. The idea came from Brett Sova, an employee of the band's label, Drag City. Sova says he tried to see if there was an applicable permit to be secured—he didn't want to get anybody in real trouble—but when he called the city, he got passed from department to department for days. As it turned out, the police didn't even issue a citation when they cut the show short.
I talked with Cave the next day on the garbage-strewn roof of Mortville, the underground venue where they'd played the night after their truck trip. They were about to leave for a month on the road, with at least another five weeks of tour dates booked in November and December. They seemed bummed that they hadn't been able to finish their set, but it's not like they needed the practice. That afternoon, they played under the big top at the inaugural Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements festival, and their performance was a model of lean efficiency from an instrumental combo firing on all cylinders.
Cave isn't the first band to play on a moving flatbed truck, of course. On May 1, 1975, the Rolling Stones famously announced a U.S. tour with a brief performance on a truck driving down New York's Fifth Avenue. But Cave's latest and best album, Neverendless, seems ideally suited to forward motion. (Released September 20 on LP, CD, and cassette, it's Drag City's first tape release since Palace Music's Viva Last Blues in 1995.) It would've been more fitting for Cave to perform atop a Japanese bullet train, but the truck made the point well enough. Their ferociously rhythmic music makes a powerful impression in a hurry—even on, say, a pedestrian who can only hear a moment of it. Cave's songs, which collide psychedelic colors with tense motorik grooves, are long and repetitive but hardly self-indulgent; the band plays with pinpoint precision, never wasting a gesture. Neverendless has been the soundtrack for my morning runs for the past month—when it's on my iPod, I feel faster and less tired.
It's a long way from the ragged, haphazard sound of Cave's early days in Columbia, Missouri. The group was so fluid at first that it's hard to say when it really began, but in 2005 drummer Rex McMurry, now 24, and guitarist Cooper Crain, 26, began playing together for hours at a time. They were bandmates in the hard-rocking Warhammer 48K, and they jammed with a revolving cast of musicians from Columbia's underground scene. The songs on some of Cave's earliest releases were edited down from improvised 30-minute freak-outs they'd taped at sessions like these.
"Written songs, doing tours . . . that's the normal trajectory for a band," says McMurry. "But we would do the opposite things with Cave. We would spend most of our time messing around with recording stuff and then do shows that were kind of on the fly." The band might never have evolved further if Lance Barresi and Liz Tooley of Permanent Records hadn't released the second and final Warhammer 48K record, Ethereal Oracle, in 2006—during that process, Crain gave them a recording of Cave's music. In 2007 Permanent put out a single album that combined two early self-released Cave titles—the cassette-only EP Jamz and the CD-R Hunt Like Devil.