All photos: Katherine Gaines
I had heard the stories of how great a performer Nick Cave was, especially coming off a SXSW performance that seemed to wow everyone in attendance, but going to the sold out Strathmore on Wednesday, I was more excited about seeing his opener Sharon Van Etten. While I came for Van Etten, I left thinking Nick Cave is probably only of the most exciting front men I’ve ever seen in concert.
But before Cave was Van Etten, whose Tramp from last year is absolutely gorgeous and features one of the best songs of 2012, “Serpents.” I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed that “Serpents” wasn’t one of the songs played, yet what was played was a beautiful collection of half a dozen songs. It was only Van Etten and her drummer on the dark stage, but the understated performance worked well for the songs she chose. Her opening song “Warsaw” was about as upbeat as it got, but the raw and powerful emotion coming from just two people was incredible. Van Etten even went into some older songs, like “Consolation Prize,” as she stated that she had the freedom to do such, since most people weren’t familiar with her and only there to see Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. But from the applause, you would have never known that she wasn’t the headliner. Van Etten’s short, somber set was a beautiful way to start the show and definitely left the audience with more fans than she had when she first took the stage.
Everyone went insane when The Bad Seeds came out, followed by Nick Cave though. His set started out on a slow start with the new song “We No Who U R,” but kicked into full gear with the next, “Jubilee Street.” Cave immediately proves what I’d heard about how incredible a performer he is. He runs around like a conductor, gyrating and gesturing to The Bad Seeds and in conjunction with each song. Cave runs around from side to side of the stage and when he stops, it’s almost like he’s in a fight stance. By the end of “Jubilee Street,” a song that builds and extends until it’s so loud, you can almost hear yourself getting tinnitus, I was already blown away by what Cave and the Bad Seeds could do.
He knocked out the new songs right after, with “Wide Lovely Eyes” and the slow burning “Higgs Boson Blues.” But these weren’t fans that necessarily wanted to hear the new stuff, these were fans much more experienced and knowledgeable that I was. The only immediately recognizable song for me was “Red Right Hand,” which Cave performed aggressively, almost like the murderer in the song. Throughout the night, Cave is pacing back and forth across the stage, like he’s willing to do this all night if we’re up for it.
I was just realizing how little Cave interacted with the audience, keeping the banter at a minimum, when he started interacting by changing lyrics to talk to the audience, even yelling “Alright Sister!” to a girl getting almost too into the music. Cave even commented, “I just realized this isn’t the 1:30 Club!” After being corrected he went, “must be the time difference. The unforgettable 9:30 Club!”
While the flamboyant performance of Cave was impressive, when Cave sat down behind a piano, that’s when we got some of the most brilliant songs of the night. “Love Letter” was an incredibly moving song, followed with other equally dark and gorgeous songs “Into My Arms” and ‘Papa Won’t Leave You Henry.”
But it was “Stagger Lee,” his final song before his encore that consisted of “Tupelo” and “Push the Sky Away,” that solidified this as a great performance. Cave sings “Stagger Lee” likes he’s screaming this story to the audience. During “Stagger Lee” I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever paid so much attention to the lyrics of the songs during a live performance. Every song is like a fascinating new story, sold my Cave’s movements and delivery.
I may have come for Sharon Van Etten, but I left a Nick Cave fan.