Friday night around 2am I was having a conversation out in a dark alley, next to broken-out windows and dumpsters, with a fellow who told me that Nick Cave saved his life.
Back in high school he listened to punk and often felt alienated from the other kids, from the metalhead contingent, the popular rock and the hair bands. Discovering music like Nick Cave’s work with The Birthday Party, and then his early albums with the Bad Seeds in the mid-’80s, had opened up whole new worlds of literate music to him that intelligently and ferociously reached across all boundaries and grabbed hold of him.
As we loitered in the darkness waiting for Nick Cave to emerge from the bowels of the Ogden Theatre after a mindblowingly amazing show, he told me how much Cave had resonated with him over the years. Standing there with his girlfriend, he held a copy of the 1985 album The Firstborn Is Dead to his chest, and in twenty minutes he would be walking away with Nick’s writing across the front, lyrics to “A Train Long-Suffering” written in silver ink still wet around his picture on the black cover. As I touched his shoulder to say bye, he was shaking like a leaf.
I am a latecomer to the cult of Cave, but after Friday night’s sold-out and powerful show, count me as a convert. Apocalyptic and spiritual metaphors are the strongest that come up after you are baptized by fire into a Nick Cave show. As he dances, stomps, writhes and howls onstage, slim and strong in his suit, sweating through his clothes, you feel like you are seeing some sort of punk-rock preacher come to save us from our sins (and planting ideas about a few new ones while he’s at it).
It’s not a gimmick nor a schtick like some Reverends in the rock world, but just the force of his personality, his intense band (with two drummers!!) and the raging quality of his songs. To get some idea of what the entire night was like, watch my favorite video of the year:
DIG, LAZARUS DIG!!!
Cave is one of the most intelligent songwriters I know of, not afraid to mix the sacred and the profane to illustrate new meanings with a punch, or to take on old stories like the closing “Stagger Lee” and make it his own with lyrics I nearly blush to repeat. The music was potent, the performance pure undiluted rock ‘n’ roll. Cave performed everything from the title track from his latest album with aplomb (second in the set), to the earliest songs like “Tupelo” as well as beloved favorites like “Red Right Hand” and “The Mercy Seat.” They held the stage for more than two visceral hours with no signs of letting up until the bitter end.
Setlist: Night of the Lotus Eaters / Dig Lazarus Dig!!! / Tupelo / Today’s Lesson / The Weeping Song / Red Right Hand / Love Letter / Hold on to Yourself / The Mercy Seat / Moonland / Midnight Man / Deanna / We Call Upon the Author / Hard On For Love / Papa Won’t Leave you, Henry ==encore== Wanted Man / Lyre of Orpheus / Stagger Lee
Friday night was one of the best shows I have seen in many moons, as I told Cave after the show. He replied that it had been his favorite of the tour as well despite some sound problems that plagued the beginning, leading to a hapless broken keyboard getting kicked off its stand by the towering Cave and his solid boots. Like everything else about the night, he was unrelenting.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds play Chicago tomorrow night, then a quick lap into Canada, and back to NYC and DC before heading back to Europe.