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 Buell Theatre 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 formed an invisible chain which kept the master of ceremonies from offering himself to the masses — but only for a short time. Even the Bad Seeds couldn’t stop him from throwing himself into the open arms of the crowd. When Nick Cave (and the many characters he plays) wasn’t parading himself around the stage, he was among his flock preaching paranoia (“We No Who U R”), eulogizing prostitutes (“Jubilee Street”) and critiquing pop culture by killing off one of its own (“Higgs Boson Blues”). The first couple songs solidified Push the Sky Away as more than just an album — it truly is 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 ‘shoot the world in the motherfucking head’ “Stagger Lee”, I was absolutely astounded. Not since seeing this show at the Ogden last year had 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. Some of them literally were, like the girl who held his hand and his gaze in a locked embrace until he fell into the crowd, only to get back up and physically embrace her like they were long lost lovers.
That’s not to say there weren’t moments when reality seeped through cracks in the façade. There was a human element to the piano-driven “Into My Arms” and “God Is in the House”; the sea reflected on the ceiling of the theatre during “Mermaids”; “West Country Girl” was simple, yet honest. 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 into the Denver night — but not without a dire warning that the world out there would still contain horrors like Stagger Lee and Hannah Montana.
Before I saw Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds for the first time last year, I was a fan of the concept. The imagery, the voice, the overall aesthetic of the band has always appealed to me, but a lot of the music had 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 now that I have walked out of Nick Cave’s house unharmed, twice, I count myself as 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 his enormous shadow will be the one towering over the cockroaches when the last word has been written, and the last song sung.
* I completely plagiarized my own review of his Ogden show here, but besides the venue and some slight tweaks to the setlist, this was a very similar show. The addition of “Mermaids”, “Into My Arms” and “God Is in the House” made this the slightly better setlist, but I liked the Ogden better as a venue. Nick Cave made the best of the seated theatre by making sure no one sat in the seats that he used as stepping stools to the middle of the room — loving, accosting, whispering and screaming to anyone who got in his way. Warpaint were a strong opener as well.
We No Who U R
Red Right Hand
The Weeping Song
From Her to Eternity
West Country Girl
Into My Arms
God Is in the House
Higgs Boson Blues
The Mercy Seat
Push the Sky Away
The Ship Song
Do You Love Me?
Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry
The Lyre of Orpheus