If you saw someone wearing a full-length black gown – or perhaps a three-piece black suit and tie – walking by Armstrong Park in the heavy July heat Monday night, odds were good they were on the way to see Nick Cave, the rock n’roll witch god, at the Mahalia Jackson Theater.
Cave’s career spans more than 30 years; the Bad Seeds formed in 1983, out of the ashes of the noise-rock outfit the Birthday Party. He’s known for his passionate intensity, whipping up furious bluster and bedlam under dark-hearted poetry that twists the blade with surgical precision.
The latest Bad Seeds album, last year’s “Push The Sky Away,” was a quieter storm, moody and subtle. Monday’s concert sampled from across the band’s catalog and was more fervent by far than the recent record, but demonstrated how much he’s trained and focused his intensity. It’s now as tailored as his slim black suit, and as dark and sharp.
From the heavy menace of the opening “We Real Cool,” Cave stalked the stage at its very lip, working the crowd like an evangelist. He gave himself over to them with an abandon that was almost frightening, urging more contact.
“I know you paid a lot of money for those seats, that doesn’t mean you have to sit in them,” he said. “The more you crash down front, the better it gets. Put your f-ing camera down – pay attention.”
He crouched and scampered like a witch doctor around a fire, and flung his arms wide, inviting dozens of hands to palm his unprotected body. (“My hands smell like Nick Cave,” a friend with front-row seats reported after the show.”)
During “Red Right Hand,” he lounged into the front row like a cabaret singer. A nasty, spitting “Stagger Lee” worked like an evil spell, rousing the audience to shout and cheer for the murder ballad’s villain.
The shamanistic display was so antic that it drew eyes away from the six men in the band, who played in half-shadow behind him (except for multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, deservedly spotlit as he sawed ferociously at his fiddle, climbing on a chair and flinging two bows high into the rafters of the theater. An extra bow slung across his shoulders poked out at an odd angle, like the bone of a broken wing.)
It would have been a mistake not to watch them: The current Bad Seeds lineup is made up of longtime Cave collaborators, including Ellis, drummer Jim Sclavunos (a Bad Seed since the mid-‘90s, who also plays in Cave project Grinderman) Martyn Casey (since the late ‘80s) and keyboard/percussionist Barry Adamson (an original Bad Seed, who left the band in the mid-'80s, and returned for the making of “Push The Sky Away.”)
When Cave briefly retreated from the front and sat at an upright piano in the middle of them, during the quiet, aching and tender “God Is In The House” and “People Ain’t No Good,” the easy interplay between the band mates was evident – as it was on an encore garage rave-up of “Deanna,” which released the wild tension of the set on an exultant note.
It was a night of conjuration and control, in the hands of a potent and masterful performer. Excavating the hoodoo darkness of Americana has been the Australian Cave’s stock in trade for decades. (Witness, as we did Monday night, the shattering, incantatory “Tupelo,” which weaves an ominous origin myth out of Elvis’ deep-in-the-Delta birth and his dead twin.) Where better than New Orleans – right next to Congo Square, in fact, where musical ghosts still whisper – to bring those tales to life onstage?"
Here's the link where I got the story, with some awesome photos from the concert:
Well, Ray and I were wearing black, but it was happenstance, unless you believe in synchronicity. I got a steal of a deal from Hotels.com and we stayed at the beautiful & magnificent Maison Dupuy Hotel on Toulouse Street, just four blocks from the theater. Thank God for valet parking AND that sweet lady in my radio, OnStar. LOL! It was our first trip using it and we love it. No maps!! We walked back to the hotel after the show, it was that close.
I was going to write about my experience (so inadequate a word!) watching Nick Cave perform, but this chick, Alison Fensterstock, of the New Orleans Time Picayune stole the words right out of my mouth. She IS a poet in a journalist's clothing. I've seen lots of concerts, but I've never seen a man give himself to the audience the way Nick Cave did. It was almost sexual...seriously...a once in a lifetime, totally visceral, primal experience. If you ever get a chance to see this band perform in concert (Warren Ellis is also a showman to behold), then do it. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, not your average band. Buy their music and definitely read Nick's books & poetry.
Nick's got a film coming out soon: "20,000 Days on Earth". I highly recommend it and his books. Nick is a poet/author/songwriter/singer...and yes, a shaman & witch doctor, too---a total Renaissance man. Here's the link to check out the trailer: http://www.20000daysonearth.com/