Photos By Ryan Kelly, Words By Andy Johnson
Unlike other artists thirty years into their careers, cashing in on their fame and trotting out the same stale set list for their aging fanbase, Nick Cave has given no thought to such complacency. The 56-year-old Australian singer, an elder statesman of the ‘80s goth rock scene, glided lithely along D.A.R. Constitution Hall’s stage Wednesday evening, alternating between crouching low and whispering in his mic to howling and jumping around manically, frequently interacting with the audience and responding to their catcalls.
If you were present, you already know it was an excellent show. Cave, accompanied by his longtime backing band the Bad Seeds, successfully slotted material from their most recent and critically-acclaimed studio album Push the Sky Away alongside greatest hits chosen from three decades’ worth of material. They also deserve kudos for variety: the 19 songs played during the two-hour set were taken from ten albums. (I do wonder why they avoided songs from their previous release, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!)
After a forty-minute set by Nicole Atkins, whose melancholy singing on “The Tower” recall the more tender moments of Stevie Nicks’ solo albums fused with the contemporary appeal of Florence Welch, the seven men took the stage. The evening began with the measured, building rumble of “We Real Cool”, as Cave intoned, “Who measured the distance from the planets / Right down to your big blue spinning world.” The song served as a warm-up for Cave, dressed in black, and the Bad Seeds, led by guitarist-flautist-violinist Warren Ellis, who occasionally upstaged the charismatic Cave with dramatic gesturing of his violin bow and repeated leaps off his amp.
A phrase that has been followed Cave throughout his career is “seductive.” To start, he’s gifted with perpetual, dare-I-even-say vampiric youth. He’s weathered a bit around the edges, but his look has remained consistent since the 1980s. His rich baritone captivates, and his clear singing – don’t underestimate how much more enjoyable music is when the singer doesn’t mumble – underscores his literate wordplay and dark lyrics.
Several of the group’s songs follow the same template: Cave commands the crowd, stalking between the stage’s edges while spitting poetic cries of love, lust and murder. Meanwhile, the Bad Seeds lumber along, never outpacing the frontman, and restrain themselves until just the right moment when they explode into a fury of thunderous percussion and screeching guitars.
Such juxtaposition between the serene and the violent could be heard on fan-favorite “From Her To Eternity.” With eight words – “I want to tell you about a girl” – Cave made the audience sequel. As he yelped each syllable of the snarling chorus, the crowd pumped their fists in exuberance. The expert lighting rig also helped: bathing the band in soft colors during slower songs, blasting the hall with crimson and flashing strobe lights when it got loud.
Cave spent much of the evening huddled at the stage’s edge, with audience members lunging to touch him. During “Red Right Hand”, he sauntered into the crowd and sang while standing on a chair. He was immediately mobbed, like a pop star one-third his age. His references to God, aquatic creatures and “72 virgins on a chain” also got a chuckle during “Mermaids”, the final single from their new album.
For the most part, the performance was consistently engaging. The evening’s solitary weak segment was playing three somber piano ballads from The Boatman’s Call consecutively. Individually, “West County Girl”, “Into My Arms”, and “People Ain’t No Good” further highlight Cave’s voice and intimacy, but in a row, they blur together. If there was a time to hit up the bar or the bathroom, this would have been it.
After several more songs, including the Miley Cyrus-referencing “Higgs Boson Blues”, the wild execution narrative “The Mercy Seat”, and the swaggering “Stagger Lee”, the group closed the evening with slow-burning “Push the Sky Away,” coaching us, “If you feel you’ve got everything you’ve came for / If you’ve got everything and you don’t want no more / You’ve got to just pushing / Keep on pushing / Push the sky away.”
This was not the end, as they returned to perform another piano ballad, “The Ship Song” and the energetic ‘50s-inspired rocker “Deanna”, one of the Bad Seeds’ few pop-friendly tunes. The final song of the encore was “The Lyre of Orpheus”, which featured Ellis donning a double guitar to complement Cave’s grotesque imagery about the tragic Greek musician’s adventure to the underworld and back.
The show may be over, but the Cave’s current appeal is unlikely to wane soon. 20,000 Days on Earth, a psuedo-documentary that compiles fictionalized, but unscripted scenes of Cave during the recording of Push the Sky Away is set for release this week. Unfortunately, no area theaters are currently scheduled to screen it. It would be a shame if the excitement generated from such a grand performance is squandered because our local movie houses would rather show Zach Braff derping around instead of a film chronicling one of the most evocative songwriters and performers of this, or any other generation.