As I mentioned in my last post, I managed to get last-minute tickets to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds at the Boston Orpheum this weekend. The Orpheum is as dingy as ever, but I actually had a better venue experience than I did the last couple of times I was there. The security staff seemed to be actually doing their jobs, and – this may be related – I did not get hit, groped, or have beer spilled on my head like last time. I also had a much better seat – not as in “we had great seats!”, but the actual thing you sit on. Last time I was there, I had to move because my seat was installed so poorly that you really couldn’t sit in it. Really, it’s that bad at the Orpheum these days.
Sharon van Etten was the opening act, but I don’t feel like I can fairly review her set – there was a lot of distraction going on around me while she was playing. The “loud talkers” next to me who talked through the whole thing, and then the seats behind me turned out to have been sold twice by the box office, which led to a protracted discussion with multiple venue staff and the four people who had all bought the same seats. (Once again: the Orpheum is really not a very good venue. How do you sell the same seats twice?!) Luckily all of this was sorted out by the time Nick Cave and his band came on stage!
I have to admit that I’ve fallen off the Nick Cave train for the last ten years or so – I don’t have any of the recent albums, and haven’t much liked the occasional new material that I’ve heard. That is why I hadn’t gone to see him since the 90s. I saw such a fantastic show in ’98 or ’99 that I was a little afraid to see a newer one in case it was a big disappointment in comparison. But a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go, and it turns out that I’m a pretty easy mark when you want me to go to a concert 😉 Anyway, this all meant that I hadn’t heard more than about 60 seconds of music from the new album, “Push the Sky Away,” and therefore was unfamiliar with the first four songs they played, all from that album: We No Who U R, Jubilee Street, Mermaids, and Higgs Boson Blues. (Am I alone in thinking someone needs to be smacked upside the head for the text-style spelling of that first title? Maybe it’s just my otherwise-useless English Lit degree getting the best of me.)
I wasn’t terribly impressed with those first four songs, and they were a bit same-y sounding (if I had the album, they might grow on me a bit, but this was my first listen). The songs from the new album strike me as something I might enjoy if another band had released it, but it’s just not what I want or expect from the Bad Seeds, somehow. I’m probably turning into one of those crotchety old fans who always thinks the new material isn’t as good as the old stuff. Shame on me!
Happily, after those songs they broke into a beautifully insistent, pounding version of From Her to Eternity. I really loved that! Whenever I hear it, especially live, I always think back to the first time I heard Nick Cave, which was in the Wim Wenders film “Wings of Desire.” It made a big impression on me when I saw it around the age of 18, and I think I probably have to credit that film for altering the direction of my musical tastes quite a bit. Here’s the scene, if you haven’t seen it:
Most of the rest of the show was a string of fan-favorite hits: Red Right Hand, Stranger than Kindness, Deanna, Jack the Ripper, The Weeping Song, The Mercy Seat, Stagger Lee, and Tupelo. We also got a couple of quieter piano pieces from “The Boatman’s Call”: Into My Arms and People Ain’t No Good. Red Right Hand is forever one of the coolest songs ever performed – something about that swaggering beat, his deep voice and those bells marking the verses with such a striking, unique sound. The Mercy Seat is another piece of song-writing mastery, instantly recognizable from the first few bars and building into something that seems simply unstoppable. Unfortunately I wasn’t sitting close enough to get video footage last night, but here’s a semi-recent live version to give you an idea:
Stagger Lee is not exactly an original piece – it’s based on a 100-year-old folk song, which has been recorded and rewritten many times over the decades. The Bad Seeds’ version is, naturally, quite nasty. It’s actually the song I remember best from that last show I saw in the 90s: burned into my brain is the moment that I looked over at Blixa Bargeld to see how he was making those screaming guitar feedback noises, and realized that he wasn’t actually playing the guitar, but rather he was making this completely inhuman screeching with his vocal cords. Whoa. Blixa is sadly no longer in the Bad Seeds, and the 2013 version isn’t quite the same without him, but it is still a damn good song and it was a damn good live performance of it as well.
The final song of the night (after Mr. Cave had a few words with audience members shouting out requests, including “That’s not even the f***ing Bad Seeds! That’s MORRISSEY!”) was the title track from the new album, Push the Sky Away. Of the five tracks from the new album that they played, this one was by far my favorite. I still thought it was a bit of a downer as an ending after they had us so riled up for the previous half hour, but I tend to like shows to go out on a bang – just a matter of taste, I guess.
Overall – a very good show. He’s on tour in the U.S. right now and if you don’t have tickets, well… the scalpers were getting hosed in Boston. You could get good orchestra seats for half price on Stubhub the day of the show. So if you don’t have tickets you might still be able to pull off some kind of last-minute bit of awesomeness. No guarantees, though 😉