Better Than: Happiness.
About halfway through his band’s set on Saturday night, Nick Cave took a moment. He’d just finished a roaring rendition of “From Her to Eternity,” the thumping, chaotic song from the Bad Seeds 1984 debut album of the same name. This was the Australian’s final evening at the Beacon Theatre, finishing a three-night stay full of violent, jazz-tinged orchestral renditions of the band’s entire repertoire. Backed by Sharon Van Etten (who opened) and Shilpa Ray, a string ensemble, and the Harlem Voices (a children’s choir), the musician spent the previous 45 minutes bouncing around the stage, gliding back and forth like modern day vampire. Then the eccentric singer paused at center stage. He pointed at someone in the front row.
“What’s that?” he asked, cupping his hand on his ear. “This is your third night?” A proud fist shot up in the air. “Yeah, well, this is my third fucking night too!” The crowd laughed as Cave apologized to the kids for swearing, and then launched into another classic Bad Seeds track, “Red Right Hand” from Let Love In.
As one of the most eccentric artists of the past few decades, Cave has found outlets for his creativity in various forms: music, fiction, screenwriting, composing, and even acting. He notoriously hates photographers (ours was allowed to only shoot the first song, which lasted about five minutes), doesn’t like to do interviews, and generally avoids the public eye. But it’s through this reserved nature that he’s gathered such a rabid cult following. Cave started the Bad Seeds in the early ’80s following his life in the Birthday Party, and he’s made a career out of writing dark, gothic lyrics. Over the years, his sound — ranging from post-punk to jazz psychedelia to an orchestra of strings — has evolved and changed, but one thing has remained constant: his deep, bellowing voice.
On Saturday, Cave put his vocal cords on display in their finest form. Touring in support of the Bad Seed’s latest record, Push the Sky Away, they opened with three tracks from record: “We No Who U R,” “Wide Lovely Eyes,” and “Jubilee Street.” Cave proudly owned each song throughout the set. “The trees all stand like pleading hands,” he crooned on “We No.” “We go down with the dew in the morning.” Next to Cave, who sported a well-fitted suit and halfway unbuttoned white shirt, stood his co-captain and multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, supporting throughout the evening with flutes, violins, tiny guitars, and piano.
Opener Sharon Van Etten — who could probably sell-out the Beacon on her own right — set the evening’s tone nicely. A bit nervous and dressed in all black, she thanked the crowd for coming early. “I know I’m not Nick Cave,” she said, to which one concertgoer shouted, “We’re here for you!” She simply responded, “Oh, fuck you,” and went on to finish her 30 minute set. She played “Give Out,” one of the highlights of her 2012 album Tramp. “This is a song about moving to New York City and falling in love,” she said, shifting her weight back and forth, “and then feeling weird about that.”
Cave dipped into the heartbreak catalog as well. The evening’s best moment came towards the end of the set. He’d taken his suit jacket off, rolled up his sleeves, and sat down at the piano. The first few chords of “Into My Arms,” the melancholy love song from The Boatman’s Call, sprung to life. Under the blue light of the storied New York City venue, Cave’s fingers fluttered delicately on the keys. “I don’t believe in the existence of angels,” he sang, seemingly to no one and everyone at the same time. “But looking at you, I wonder if that’s true.”
Critical Bias: Been listening to a lot of pop music lately.
Random Notebook Dump: Everyone here looks like Nick Cave.
Overheard: “You know Nick Cave. He has a song on the Garden State soundtrack.”
We No Who U R
Wide Lovely Eyes
We Real Cool
Higgs Boson Blues
From Her to Eternity
Red Right Hand
Jack the Ripper
Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry
Into My Arms
The Weeping Song
The Mercy Seat
The Ship Song
Push the Sky Away