Live Last Night: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

While part of me is tempted to write some really mean things about Nick Cave because the mustachioed-sicko canceled his interview with me on less than 12 hours notice (I demand the same respect as a doctor; what I'm doing is at least 1/587th important), I just can't. His two-night stand at the 9:30 club on Sunday and Monday was simply stunning. Chris Klimek's review of Sunday's show pretty much says it all and Monday's show was just about on the same level. It was a bit looser; Cave even abandoned ballad "God Is In the House" because he couldn't get it to work. It was odd only because of the startling precision and ferocity with which Cave and his six-piece backing band tore through their nearly two hours of music each night. The flubbed version of the song was a reminder that while there is no machine as well-oiled as the Bad Seeds, they actually have an off moment. But not much more than that.

Sunday's show was better overall, but the concluding three songs of Monday's main set was the best stretch of the two-night stand. That run started with "Deanna," which is one the band's most straightforward garage rockers, and on Monday it exploded with sinister power. It's basically the Bad Seeds' version of "Gloria," complete with the female name in the title, (almost) spelling out that name letter by letter and call-and-response vocals. Of course, Cave's version is plenty more deranged ("I ain't down here for your love of money/I'm down here for your soul") and as the band worked up a frenzy and shouted its backing vocals and Cave leaned into front row of the crowd, featuring audience members hands raised into the air, it felt like some sort of bizarro revival.

For a pair of songs each night Cave sat down at the piano for some ballads, and these were the weak spots of both evenings, relatively speaking. Cave as leader of apocalyptic rock band >>> Cave as sentimental balladeer. You could say he was channeling Leonard Cohen, but as a friend pointed out on Sunday night, it's just as much Bruce Hornsby. Which is fine for Bruce Hornsby (to an extent), but not for Cave.

"Red Right Hand" and "More News From Nowhere" were two songs that best played to Cave's strengths. They are both slow-burners that let Cave do his disturbed genius lyrical thing while the band lays low in the background, creating its spooky soundtrack to Cave's lurid tales. (If a high school kid were to turn in the lyrics to one of Cave's songs for a poetry assignment, he'd surely have a mandated visit with the school counselor in his near future.) The former eventually climaxed with some double-drum powered mayhem while the latter never quite boiled over, which made it the perfect choice to end last night's set, leaving us begging for more in the encore. And that encore ended, as always, with the absolutely filthy and fantastic "Stagger Lee," which I nominate as the Very Worst Song to Ever Put on a Mixtape for Grandma.

As to SSMD's request for an explanation on Mr. Cave, I'll say this -- he's not one of those acts where I'll be bewildered if you don't like him. He's not for everyone. If literary (and often funny) lyrics about religion, love, death and the general dark side of the human condition aren't your thing, you might find yourself rolling your eyes plenty while listening to Cave. He's not like Nick Lowe. I said on Friday that if you like music, you'd like Nick Lowe (at least that song). I wouldn't say the same for Cave. That said, I think most people would be converted by his live show. Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein had never seen him before this tour and her take was basically how I remember my first live Bad Seeds experience: "If it weren't so obnoxious, I would write this post in all caps -- that would be the easiest way to convey the electricity I witnessed. Or I could use short, monosyllabic phrases like "Holy f---!" to indicate that my senses are slayed and useless."

As for where to start in his massive discography, the man is on a roll lately. This year's "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!" might be his best one yet, with 2005's double album "Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus" close behind. And if you want to try out one of his piano-based albums, 2001's "No More Shall We Part" is probably where to start. The Birthday Party stuff is much more an acquired taste. Those are some very fractured, art-damaged songs, with very little of the professional polish that the Bad Seeds currently sport.

Who else was there to witness the sound and the fury these past few nights?

By David Malitz |  October 7, 2008; 2:36 PM ET Live Last Night
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Having listened to him since The First Born is Dead, sad to say Sunday was the first time I'd seen him live. You've pegged it. Just a great, great show, louder and more assaultive than anything I've seen from him on video -- the Grinderman effect carried over, reckon.

Could do without Stagger Lee. Sorry he didn't do More News from Nowhere Sunday.

Posted by: NCWOOD | October 7, 2008 3:24 PM

Thanks for the tips, David. I'll check out Cave's newer albums. I think I heard a Birthday Party disc in college and decided I didn't like him.

I do like other musicians who specialize in the dark literary arts (Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson, and more), so the key for me will be whether I like Cave's music.

Posted by: SSMD | October 7, 2008 5:20 PM

I was at the show on Monday night and I agree wholeheartedly. This time around was even more amazing than when they came through 5 years ago. And they performed "Deanna" which made me a very happy girl.
As you said, he is not going to appeal to everyone.
Nick Cave is one hell of storyteller. And yes, many of the stories are dark and deranged but I can't think of anyone else who even comes close.
I would also recommend giving "Tender Prey" a listen.

Posted by: Lisa | October 8, 2008 12:02 PM

I must admit, I just discovered Nick Cave early in the year. I picked up Abattoir Blues at my local library. That album and visual document completely sucked me in. I bought Dig, Lazarus, Dig the day it was released (shout out to Record & Tape Traders, Towson MD). Having gotten tickets to Monday's show way back in May, I can honestly say I have not anticipated any performance as much since 1981 when Elvis Costello toured in support of his amazing album Imperial Bedroom. I am struck by Cave's powerful lyricism on the subject of male insecurity, which he made reference to at Monday's show. He seemed to be ready to blow apart at the seams as he railed against the nature of deceit and duplicity. Chris Klimek's review was spot on,though I would suggest that Nick also lays on a big dose of Jim Morrison (he even threw in a line about "dog without a bone" a la "Riders on the Storm"). Contrasting his bombast (it was *great* bombast!) was his warmth and a kind of "let's go" enthusiasm--many times before each song he made verbal contact with each bandmate like Peyton Manning checking off at the line of scrimmage. The band seemed barely contained from raising from the stage. "Awesome" is a trite, overused adjective, but this show was truly awe-inspiring.

Posted by: Glenn | October 8, 2008 1:54 PM

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