It would be hard for any follower of the music scene over the last twenty years to not be aware of the iconic dark image of Nick Cave. My only connection with his work, however, came from my fascination with “Into My Arms,” a rather firm but sensitive love ballad from 1997’s The Boatman’s Call. Playing this song repeatedly, I took particular notice of its references to God and angels, imagery incongruent with my perceptions about Mr. Cave. In turn, I surprisingly learned that the Australian musician and author professed to be an adherent to Christianity.
My further exploration of Cave’s work began with the purchase of his new record, Push the Sky Away. I found the new record instantly accessible, and my uncharacteristic excitement about the upcoming show confused some of my musical compadres. The purchase of the new LP entitled me to attend his limited pre-show record signing at Grimey’s, an event I did not expect from the seemingly brooding Cave. Surprisingly, the sold-out signing was a pleasant experience with Cave arriving alone in a fan-friendly mood.
The night of the show coincided with Nashville’s false start to spring. Outside the Ryman before the show, the sleeveless crowd sported the most tattoos I have ever seen at a concert. Inside, I was surprised by the longest “merch” line I have ever seen at the venue and by the odd choice of the pre-show music—Bob Seger? After a somewhat uninspiring set by Nashvillian Sharon Van Etten, the stage gave way to Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds. Van Etten remained to provide backing vocals.
The nine-piece ensemble opened with four songs from the new record. The tall and lanky Cave, dressed aptly in a black suit and open-collared white shirt, stalked back and forth across the stage, microphone in hand, only to vary his actions with an occasional burst at the piano. He seemed to frequent one spot in particular at stage left. There, he would extend his hand down below to the women in front. It looked like he wanted to pull one onto stage, but they held back. Finally, one made the leap, and Cave finished the song while holding her in his embrace.
The band provided a brilliantly-orchestrated operatic accompaniment to Cave’s dark lyrical narratives. The music was loud, but Cave’s vocals stood out clean, sharp, and clear. The remainder of the show featured a mix of songs representing his lengthy career. The main segment ended with a menacing ten-minute romp through Cave’s reworking of the traditional murder ballad, Stagger Lee. After a minute into it, the band faltered and Cave had to restart the song. Nevertheless, the piece echoed fear and drama throughout the walls of the hallowed Ryman. He closed the set with the title track off his new record.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds left the sold-out crowd drained and satisfied after an hour and forty minute performance that will long be remembered. As a result of this gig well-played, I plan to delve into the 15-record back catalog of this remarkable artist and his band.
- We No Who U R
- Jubilee Street
- Wide Lovely Eyes
- Higgs Boson Blues
- From Her to Eternity
- Red Right Hand
- Stranger than Kindness
- Jack the Ripper
- Your Funeral… My Trial
- God Is in the House
- The Weeping Song
- The Mercy Seat
- Stagger Lee
- Push the Sky Away
Nick Cave – Vocals and Piano
Barry Adamson – Drums and Percussion
Martyn P. Casey – Bass
Conway Savage – Piano and Organ
Jim Sclavunos – Percussion, Drums and Organ
Warren Ellis – Guitar and String Instruments
Ed Kuepper – Guitar
Sharon Van Etten – Backing Vocals
Shilpa Ray – Backing Vocals