Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Sharon Van Etten
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Better than: Getting murdered and/or sodomized by Stagger Lee, we're assuming.
Are there bad Nick Cave shows? We can't imagine what one would be like. What if there are only Nick Cave shows where your favorite songs get played and Nick Cave shows where other songs get played? Because what the man himself brings to the night -- and the contribution of his band, the Bad Seeds, and whomever they decide to bring along -- is, based on our admittedly limited experience, likely to be utterly intense and ravaging and a little disturbing and genuinely Nick Cave-like. In other words, great.
Last night Cave brought a children's choir, a string section, and a band of badass musicians to an ugly concrete cavern called the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, and somehow still managed to win the night. The setlist was filled with simmering tunes from his new, slower, quieter, excellent-but-somewhat-polarizing album, Push the Sky Away, including nothing from his more recent records, and yet he still managed to win the night.
But again, how could Cave not win, is the question. He comes onstage in a fine suit and proceeds to get it as sweaty as possible, raging from side to side and from up to down and from stage to audience shoulder constantly, stopping to mop the sweat from his face with a towel or play the piano or thank "you children" (with a father's tone) for their singing or usher them offstage before any of the real profane songs (think "Stagger Lee" with another verse about murdering the devil) begins. Basically he is brimming with Cave-like madness, and you can trace the progress of his spindly little legs across the stage and get excited even from the other side of an 8,500-capacity room or get up close and see that he's behaving just as fiercely as he sounds. And the whole time his band members are breaking their instruments something wicked: Warren Ellis needs a new horsetail for his violin bow, and how did the bass get so loud, and goddamn do those children sound so pretty.
A few notes on the translation of songs from Push the Sky Away to the live stage and other things:
- "This song I wrote for my wife. You can see her on the cover of the record," says Cave, introducing "Wide Lovely Eyes." He does not mention that his wife is not wearing clothes on the cover of said record.
- The rumbling bassline that anchors "We Real Cool" churns stomachs and sets off alarm bells in the reptilian-level brain even in this vast room. The line "Wikipedia is heaven/ When you don't want to remember anymore" refuses to not stand out.
- The guitar lick centerpiece of "Jubilee Street" becomes more ominous when it's louder and a little messier live. When the song reaches its panoramic climax you think the room might explode. Cave brings an intensity to quiet that few can match. Maybe because everybody's kind of terrified of him.
- At the end of "Higgs Boson Blues," we observed in our notebook, simply: "That was something." Not to be glib, but, well, it really was.
So there: Nick Cave played some songs in San Francisco last night, and the venue was kinda shitty (go back to the Warfield please, Mr. Cave), but otherwise, well, Nick Cave played his songs, 18 of them actually, a bunch from his new album, which is blood-boiling if you let it sink in, and how could that not basically be great?
The Sound: Despite the pedestrian environs of the venue, the sound was excellent -- loud, punchy, and clear, with Cave's vocals comfortably high in what must have been a difficult mix. Our complaint about the venue is solely that it was an ugly and unremarkable place to take in a Nick Cave show, which is probably a little petty. The room worked just fine.
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
The Ship Song
Push the Sky Away