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At long last … Nick Cave

March 30, 2013

A string quintet, a children’s choir, a little fire and brimstone. What more would you expect from Nick Cave?

I’ve wanted to see the guy for about 20 years after I started getting into him around the time The Good Son came out. One of the more theatrical performers around, he nonetheless doesn’t tend to do extensive tours. He and the Bad Seeds play Europe and Australia often, but when they do North America, they typically play about a dozen shows.

He did play Vancouver when I was living there in the mid-1990s for Lollapalooza, but I skipped it because he’s just not someone you want to see in an outdoor festival setting. A dingy club or an old theatre is the place for his dark tales of retribution or occasional redemption.

The closest he came was Seattle a few years back, but by the time I heard about it, both concerts at the Showbox had sold out. Then, near the end of 2011, he brought his Grinderman side project to the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, and I thought seriously about flying back for it. Apparently it was an amazing show, and I regretted not going, though I was holding out for a chance to see the Bad Seeds.

It finally happened. With an airline credit to use, I decided to book a flight back to Toronto where I hadn’t been in six years and catch last week’s show at the legendary Massey Hall. (Also caught a fine show by the dour troubadour Ron Sexsmith the night before at the Randolph Theatre, formerly the Bathurst Street Theatre.)

Cave did not disappoint. The night started quietly, but a few songs in the band tackled the new song, “Jubilee Street” and punched up the ending, which had the theatre crowd on its feet, heads bobbing near the stage front.

While he played much from his latest Bad Seeds album, Push the Sky Away, one of his mellower releases, he included a good cross section from his career: “Red Right Hand,” “The Weeping Song,” “Papa Won’t Leave You Henry,” “God Is In the House,” “From Her to Eternity,” “The Mercy Seat” and so on. He was joined by five string players and backup singers, including opener Sharon Van Etten. (This, itself, was a treat as her album Tramp was one of my favourites from 2012.)

He had a children’s choir from a local school join him for several songs before waving them off. When I first saw the kids, I thought he probably won’t do his X-rated cover of “Stagger Lee.” It’s funny for a songwriter that plumbs the dark depths of the human soul, that unleashes as much fury in music as anyone, Cave does not lean heavily on expletives. His sodomy and murder-filled take on the old blues song stands out as an exception in raunch, and being Nick Cave, he doesn’t go halfway on anything.

When the Seeds launched into “Stagger” to close the main part of the set, I was thrilled and assumed the kids had safely left the building. (Turns out they were just backstage waiting to come out for the encore of the new album’s titular track. Hmmm, wonder if their parents had anything to say about the strange man with the dirty mouth.) The song was perhaps one of the best things I’ve seen on a stage, so I’ve included a YouTube link of “Stagger” from a New York show a few days later.

Dressed in black silk suit and white dress shirt, the dapper Cave comes across a bluesy, punky, long and lean version of Elvis, or maybe bizarro crooner Scott Walker. There’s no one like him. For close to two hours, he and his Bad Seeds put on an energetic set that was by turns quiet and poignant, then blaring, bluesy, ecstatic, full of moments of rapture.

If his music has mellowed some in recent years, the man himself has not, as Nick Cave continues to present a dark, dense take on love and life in a way that only Nick Cave can. Definitely worth the wait.

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From → Live music

One Comment
  1. Ken Goudswaard permalink

    Red Right Hand probably my favourite Nick Cave tune

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