Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
See also: Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds Slideshow
The crowd in the packed Fonda Theater went quiet as a film flickered and began projecting onto the curtain, a documentary about the making of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' new album, Push The Sky Away. It was all the regular stuff -- studio scenes, noodling scenes, Cave sitting and looking nonchalantly brooding while saying things like "We were trying to avoid all those known entities in song writing." The crowd was rapt, the film set the tone for what we were here to do, which was to worship.
Over the course of almost two hours and 18 songs, Cave slink-strutted on stage in his signature trim black suit and silky black shirt in front of more that 30 backers: two backup singers, a strings section, a children's choir (from the Silver Lake Music Conservatory -- "aren't these kiddies cute?" Cave asked more than once), and the band. They launched into the first song from Push The Sky Away, "We No Who U R," and then Cave declared, "We're gonna play our new record. We're gonna play it in order. So it'll be just like listening to a record except I'll be saying a bunch of stupid shit in between."
And with that the band recreated their new collection of songs, which were meditative, compared to the Bad Seeds' 2008, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! and the two albums Cave has released with Grinderman. Where those works have been exercises in blunt force pandemonium, Push The Sky Away is Cave at his ominous, melodic, pensive best. Sang in order with a choir of children's voices, it had the effect of casting a kind of dreamlike tension. By the third song, "Water's Edge," Cave was in full storytelling mode, leaning over the crowd, drawing them in like a dark tent preacher. After Cave dedicated a song to his wife, someone in the crowd yelled something indecipherable. "Jesus you Americans are weird," Cave replied.
The last song from the album, the same-titled "Push The Sky Away," felt like the emotional heart of the show, the tension in the room brought to a swelling mass. With quiet, electric control, Cave sang: "Some people say it's just rock and roll, but it gets you down to your soul. You've gotta just keep on pushing it, keep on pushing it, push the sky away."
He had us wound up completely, just in time to launch into "From Her To Eternity," from the Bad Seeds' 1984 first album of the same name. The lack of mayhem in the early part of the show meant that when it arrived, in moments like the break in "Red Right Hand," or the entirety of "Jack The Ripper," it felt like an immense release, a flood and smack of controlled dark energy. It made me want to wreck things.
Cave slowly dismissed people from the stage, first the kid's choir ("Just don't steal the headphones") then the backing singers, then the string section. He sat at the piano for one last ballad, "Love Letter," and then ended the regular set with "The Mercy Seat," again having wound us up and offered release. Between the set and the encore, one of the kids from the choir, probably about 11, ran up behind me to reclaim her mother.
When the encore came, it was the controlled violence of Cave's most profane song of all, "Stagger Lee," a song in which the main word is "motherfucker" and the lyrics tend towards "I'd crawl over fifty good pussies to get to one fat boy's asshole." The eleven year old behind me was agog. We all were.
Personal bias: As a 13-year old Australian, one night at midnight I came across a Nick Cave special on television. The fact that he was my countryman, and so dark and totally in control of the sacred profanity I felt in my soul but couldn't express changed me -- my musical taste, my everything. Last year I met him, smoking a cigarette outside a bar in Atlanta. "We share a homeland," I said. "Oh yeah? How long have you been gone?" he asked. "20 years." "It's almost 30 for me," he said, then went inside. I've been writing a novel in my head titled Things I Should Have Said To Nick Cave ever since.
The Crowd: Who knew so many 40 year olds still put on the white makeup and wear oxblood Doc Martins?
Random notebook dump: Billy Idol watched from a perch above the VIP bar, looking kind of perplexed but grinning wildly at the relentless "motherfucker"s at the end. Casey Affleck cut me off in the beer line.
Set list below
We No Who U R
Wide Lovely Eyes
We Real Cool
Finishing Jubilee Street
Higgs Boson Blues
Push the Sky Away
From Her To Eternity
The Ship Song
Jack The Ripper
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See also: Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds Slideshow