Remember when you were younger and just about every concert you attended was THE BEST FUCKING CONCERT you’d ever seen? Then as you aged, they became fewer and further between? There were still some really good shows, but rarely something to knock your socks off. Maybe it’s because you were seeing fewer shows each year and those you did go to were your aging musical heroes who were basically phoning it in.
You can imagine my pleasure and surprise then when I stepped out of the Louisville Palace last week on a late Kentucky spring night and thought to myself, THAT WAS ONE OF THE BEST FUCKING CONCERTS I’VE EVER SEEN! Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds had just kicked off their North American tour, and I do mean KICKED. If I wasn’t already very content with my current life, this would have had the potential to be a life-changing experience. It was THAT good, but I’m probably too old to begin following bands around the country. Probably.
Wow! What a show! And I mean a show! Not of the smoke and mirror variety, or in a Wow-that-singer-sure-can-choreograph-her-dance-moves-while-lip-synching sort of way. I mean a rock show with a charismatic singer at the helm rocking the house.
The show took off with a pair of songs from last year’s release, Push the Sky Away. In the studio, “Jubilee Street” maintained a rather steady volume and rhythm. But in concert, the band ramped it up, building to a crescendo that slammed the far seats with a throbbing wall of noise. It wasn’t volume for volume’s sake, it was an emotional blast that penetrated the body, if not the soul. This music had something to say and you’d better listen or get out of the way.
The other six musicians on stage pretty much stood their ground while Cave swept back and forth across the stage, leaping up and down, plunging into the audience. He couldn’t seem to get enough of the crowd. “Come closer, come closer,” he kept pleading, even as he was wrapped up in fans. He made a few trips out to the floor during the course of the evening, getting as far as the 20th row at one point. That’s way deeper than any radio station will ever get into his catalog. Whoever the roadie was responsible for keeping Cave’s mic cord untangled was not getting paid enough.
The set list was a roller coaster ride through the band’s 30-year career. Cave could settle down at the piano one moment for the quietly barbed “God Is in the House”, but then stick it to you the next with the brooding and tumultuous “The Mercy Seat” about a man heading to the electric chair.
But what made it so good, you might ask. How does one define the sublime in a rock concert? Greatness is as difficult to explain as the Higgs boson, but Nick Cave has got it. You’ll just have to take it on good authority until you experience it yourself. Cave is a poet and showman. His songs explore sexuality, brutality, mortality; all the really great -alities. He could be touching with a love song, “Into My Arms” (“I don't believe in an interventionist God/But I know, darling, that you do”), then vulgar with the ballad of American anti-folk hero Stagger Lee, a “bad motherfucker.” He was funny, poignant, and naughty, yet always adhered to the ABR of entertainment: Always Be Rocking!
And that voice! Deep and dark, lusty and bluesy. Even if his lyrics weren’t so exquisitely intelligent and imaginative, you’d want to listen just for the pure pleasure of that rich and sonorous sound.
This was my first Nick Cave concert. I admit it, I was late coming to the party (or to the Birthday Party, if you will, the name of Cave’s former band). I always knew the name, but never bothered to listen to the music. Then I heard the title track from the 2008 release, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! That led to the rest of the cd, and then to last year’s release and then to his older work. I was hooked! At least I thought I was hooked. Apparently, I was just playing at being a devotee. It wasn’t until experiencing him live that I became a true disciple.
That’s why I pardoned him for not playing anything from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! Who cares if there’s no shrimp cocktail when you’re already enjoying filet mignon? And all was definitely forgiven when the night closed with “The Lyre of Orpheus”, his mythically-inspired composition from a decade ago. Any songsmith who can pair Orpheus with orifice in rhyming lines is already in a state of grace!
I’m sure there are many “real” Nick Cave fans out there rolling their eyes at my Cavean naivete and bad Bad Seed knowledge. It’s true, I can’t name all their albums and Louisville was the first time I really heard “Red Right Hand” or “The Ship Song”, two of the band’s more “popular” tunes. Whatever. You probably shot up with Nick in a back stage toilet in ’88, too. Fine, you win. You’re cooler than I am. But there’s no zealot like the recently converted, am I right?
Nick Taggart was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, and works in the Genealogy, History and Travel division of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. His turn-ons include genealogy, local history, and travelling around Ohio and the world with his wife, Michele.