In nearly every song on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ latest record, Push the Sky Away, it feels like there’s a storm brewing beneath the surface. The effect is cumulative. By the end of the album, it’s as if a massive thundercloud has formed. Though a palpable tension ebbs and flows throughout, it never fully breaks into a full-fledged deluge, landing the album on the mellower end of the wide Nick Cave spectrum.
Performed live, however, these songs were split wide open, bringing the ferocious downpour the album portends to Seattle’s Paramount Theatre Sunday. Exhilarating and exhausting, the show proved to me that Cave easily remains one of the most magnetic and enigmatic frontmen in rock music today—emotionally forthright, bafflingly arcane, and viscerally sexual all at the same time. Opener Sharon Van Etten—who is no slouch in the emotional forthrightness department herself—called Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “the most punk rock gentlemen” she’s ever met. It’s a perfect description of the dichotomy that exists onstage between the introspective piano songs and the hair-raising post-punk maelstroms.
Push the Sky Away opener “We Know Who U R” opened the show in slinky, sultry fashion before Cave and the Seeds launched into blistering renditions of album highlights “Jubilee Street” and “Higgs Boson Blues.” “Wide Lovely Eyes” gave Cave the first of many opportunities to lyrically seduce those clamoring at the stage’s edge, his hands outstretched and his piercing eyes locking with anyone close who would return his gaze.
Cave took a couple of breaks to retreat to his piano and deliver several mournful performances—the highlight being a fan-requested “People Ain’t No Good”—but most of the show was devoted to punk rock barrages of sound and movement that were chaotic but tightly constructed all the same. While founding member Mick Harvey recently departed the band, fellow founder Barry Adamson is back after a long absence. And the Bad Seeds just wouldn’t be the Bad Seeds without the inimitable Warren Ellis, whose violin, flute, and guitar playing underpin so many songs. It’s tough to take your eyes off Cave during a performance, but if anyone can divert your attention it’s Ellis, bow strings flying as he shreds a violin part.
Sunday’s setlist balanced the band’s discography nicely, stretching all the way back to the title track from their debut album From Her to Eternity, a rendition that kicked just as much ass as the one immortalized in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. “Tupelo,” “The Mercy Seat,” and “Jack the Ripper” were all given muscular performances, but the show’s apex had to be with two apocalyptic barnburners, “Red Right Hand” and “Stagger Lee,” the latter closing out the main set with a snarl.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have traversed across a varied but remarkably consistent 15-album career. Their live show is as vital as it’s likely ever been. The rest of their U.S. tour dates are sold out, and for good reason.
Photos: Dusty Somers