I have never listened to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. There, now you know. It's a dark secret, hidden away from the eyes of the astute music fan friends that I have. To admit something like that would be akin to social suicide, a death sentence to be plunged into the dregs of unpopularity and disbelief. However, this all changed last night, because I saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live, somewhat on a whim. And yes, I had heard the Birthday Party before, so I was not that uncool.
I got to the show right before it was set to start, 8pm. My friend Dan was waiting for me. He had gotten tickets from someone who couldn't go; the show had been sold out since last year, and it was very expensive. We ended up paying much less than we would have considering we were almost in the front row of the Carnegie Music Hall of Oakland. There was some confusion over where our seats were, and we were initially seated wrong. Eventually, another usher came over and showed us to the correct, and better, seats. The seats didn't end up mattering though because Nick Cave invited the crowd to come on down to the front! It's always weird to me to see that these kinds of bands are playing these kinds of places, and I guess performers like he and Iggy Pop feel strange playing there. "Beautiful, but impractical", Cave called the theater.
The show was exciting! Cave's six-piece band was skilled and loud but not harsh. The instruments included the rock standard of drums, guitar, and bass amongst violin, piano, various percussion instruments, and possibly a synthesizer. Warren Ellis looked like a wildman on violin with his long beard and enormous movements. The drums were heavy, booming like a chariot of the gods or some other Bonham metaphor. I expected the bombast and mostly loved it. Perhaps it was a little jammy at times, some would say self-indulgent. I like slow builds though. The only thing I didn't really like was the sequence of dreary piano ballads towards the middle. It went on a bit long.
Cave himself took to getting right up to the audience. He was much more human than I expected. He clearly showed off star power, which left a true impression on me, but he was not standoffish. He appreciated the audience's desire to touch him, to enter his dark world. Right when we got down to the floor, Cave crowd-surfed over us, and later he had listeners reach out and feel his heartbeat, literally. It was a different take off of what I expected.
Cave's voice is deep and somber, at times spiking out to harsh pins. The band droned on behind him in a lumbering avant-blues goth. The songs were stories of heartache and death, tragedy and love and longing. Like Tom Waits, Jim Morrison, or Iggy Pop, Cave is a dark crooner unlike his Birthday Party skronking. As I said above, sometimes the band wallowed in the heartache but that is a minor nitpick.
The show went on for around 2 hours; it might have been longer. Projections accompanied some of the musick, helping to keep it fresh. There were howling winds, polarized images of Cave, and a female singer. The band did a long encore of requests after playing for over an hour. I had to pee super bad and tried to hold it. I really wasn't interested in pissing myself, so I left for a moment towards the end to come back to everyone on the stage, gathered like a cult of mourners encircled in green light. It was eerie and quite something to see all the people looking down from the balconies.
This was quite an amazing and special show, one that I will remember forever. It was quite something to be right up close to such a booming powerhouse. The near, and at times literal, tangibility also made the wall between the band and us, as the audience, more noticeable. Right now, I'm thinking about Pink Floyd's The Wall. Roger Waters' tale of disillusionment is real, but it is avoidable too, considering Cave's connection to his listeners. Though I had very little connection to him beforehand, I really felt like I was part of Nick Cave's world standing there in front of all the lights and people. It's something I will never forget.