When the end of the world is upon us, in those last days when only a few survivors hold on to humanity’s last hopes and dreams, I see Nick Cave walking through the streets of a decimated city in a dusty black suit and crisp white shirt. He’s swinging a timepiece on a gold chain, and in defiance of the encompassing carnage, he has a smile on his face. City block by city block he struts, as if he doesn’t have a care in the world — and block by block his flock increases. Women, men and children, the last of the human race, follow the man in black out of the city — because he seems to have a purpose — a destination.
Those of us at the Ogden Theater didn’t need a catastrophic event to bring us around to the ways of Mr. Cave and his church of Bad Seeds. As soon as the manic street preacher took the stage, we were in his service.
Bathed in a blood red light, the 6-piece band, along with two beautiful backup singers, formed an invisible chain which kept the master of ceremonies from offering himself to the masses. Without them, I truly believe he would have thrown himself into the open arms of the crowd, never to be seen again. Instead, Nick Cave (and the many characters he plays) was able to parade himself around the stage ‘like an elephant on a matchbox’. Whether it be preaching paranoia (“We No Who U R”), eulogizing prostitutes (“Jubilee Street”) or critiquing pop culture by killing off one of its own (“Higgs Boson Blues”), the first half hour of new material solidified Push the Sky Away as more than just an album. I truly believe it to be a valid critique of the times in which we live. I feel blasphemous writing these words, but I wish Tom Waits’ last album would have been even half as good as what Nick Cave is doing now.
Speaking of Tom Waits, I believe he is the only artist that might have shown more intensity onstage than what I witnessed last night. The new material had me transfixed, as if under a spell, as an unknown amount of time was lost, but when he started going deep, with the extremely creepy “From Her to Eternity”, the Waits-esque “Red Right Hand”, and the dance-on-the-grave-of-the-world “Deanna”, I was absolutely astounded. Not since seeing Tom Waits’ small venue tour in ’08 have I been so moved – so affected by a performance. Looking around the room, I was not alone. The Bad Seeds might have been visited by a ‘psychedelic doctor’ backstage, but I didn’t need chemical enhancements to have a trip of my own. It was as if Cave was somehow performing a separate show for every individual in attendance. Not unlike the child who reaches out for something in front of their face at a 3D movie, every person in the sold-out crowd was experiencing their own private show.
That’s not to say there weren’t moments when reality seeped through cracks in the façade — a human element to the piano-driven “Love Letter”, a request from ‘the woman in red’ for “We Real Cool”, and a collaborative dance effort in “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry”. Each of these provided a nice breather, reminding us that it was all just a show, and that the world would probably still be there when we walked out onto Colfax — but not without a dire warning that the world out there would still contain horrors like “Stagger Lee” and Hannah Montana.
I walked into the house of Nick Cave as a fan of concept. The imagery, the voice, the overall aesthetic of the band has always appealed to me, but a lot of the music has come across as harsh and frightening (and this is coming from someone who listens to a lot of black metal). Tom Waits, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Dylan – I always saw these guys as the slightly unbalanced uncles who might offer you a puff of a joint when you’re just a kid. Nick Cave was the old dude who wanted to give you heroin. There was something too dark, too wrong with him. But I walked out of the house of Nick Cave unharmed. I walked out a true fan. I now understand him to be the twisted genius that he is. He’s not the perverted cult leader I’ve always assumed him to be – he just plays one onstage.
That being said, I still believe he will be the one towering over the cockroaches when the last word has been written, and the last song sung.
We No Who U R
Wide Lovely Eyes
Higgs Boson Blues
From Her to Eternity
Red Right Hand
Jack the Ripper
Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry
We Real Cool
The Weeping Song
The Mercy Seat
Push the Sky Away