Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds At The Shrine, Friday July 11th 2014
It must be so good to be Nick Cave, if performing art truly gives to man God-like powers, then Nick Cave becomes God every night.
If he is truly afraid of uncontrollable weather and terrified of nature as he says in his documentary ‘20,000 Days on Earth’, he builds his own storm every time he performs ‘Tupelo’, ‘Red Right Hand’, ‘Stagger Lee’, ‘Jack the Ripper’…. or any of his devilish tunes that put the house on fire and raise hell several times in a row. Nick Cave is in total control of the place, of the crowd, he holds everyone in the palm of his red right hand and successively transforms himself into a bigger-than-life hero, a lover, a devil, an angel… He did all that at the Shrine auditorium on Friday night, putting everybody in awe, transfigurating the large room.
And it’s not an easy task, the place is huge (this is where the Academy Awards used to be held a few years ago), it has two levels and a capacity of 6,300 seats. It’s not an arena, but it’s really big, so how do you touch people who seem to be sitting miles away? If you were standing in the pit on Friday night – and I did envy these people all night long – Nick Cave probably did touch your hand or arm, but if you weren’t, he probably reached your heart, soul or whatever you believe keeps you alive.
Even on the side of the stage, I could feel Cave’s intense stare at the crowd, while observing his repeated dives into the pit. I hadn’t seen a performer do so many of them since Iggy Pop’s last show at the Palladium. But if Iggy surfs the crowd in a christ-like position and returns to the stage with his nose bleeding, Nick overlooks the crowd, as if he was walking way above everyone’s head, surrounded by people’s arms outstretching in his direction. He grabs hands and arms, almost screams at people’s face, and everyone wants a piece of him – I read that, a few days ago, a ‘crazy woman in Portland got on stage and then groped his crotch later on in the show’. Nothing like this happened at the Shrine, at least, Nick didn’t let us know, but he was Elvis, Johnny Cash, and a Rock & Roll goth hero controlling the weather inside the Shrine. His transformations are endless from song to song, he was alternately reflective, seductive, aggressive, frightening and incendiary or loving and vulnerable.
It was my second Nick Cave show (the first one was last year at the Henry Fonda, when he and the Bad Seeds performed the new album ‘Push the Sky Away’ in its entirety, plus a few other songs) but this one was more all over the place regarding his large catalogue of songs. If they still played ‘We Real cool’, ‘Jubilee Street’ ‘Mermaids’, ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ and ‘Push the Sky Away’ from the last album, the Bad Seeds performed songs from ten of their numerous albums, making the night a bit more epic and much more frightening. I was front row at the Henry Fonda since it’s a general admission venue, but this time I had a seat in the way back and I wasn’t pleased at all. For me, concerts take another dimension when you are close to the action. Plus my seat was right behind the control/technical equipment and technicians were standing just in front of me… this place sucks, I thought, how can they sell seats with such an obstructed view of the stage? The opening band was Warpaint, a female quartet playing some dance-y stretching songs with lots of harmonies and a rhythmic-tribal feeling, however, they didn’t stay very long on stage. Just after their set, I complained to a security guard and asked him if I could get another seat. Some seats inside the Shrine may suck, but the staff was very good to me, they relocated me very close to the stage, but on the extreme left side of it. As the concert progressed, people were standing up and not seating on their seats anymore, so I was able to move closer and closer, strode over a small wall separating my section from another one and finally got a descent spot.
Nick was a fury, igniting the place from right to left, then back to front, and his insane moves were impossible to capture on camera – I shot some videos though, and I wish I could have used a professional camera! He was simply impossible to catch! Of course, there were a few quieter moments, when he did the contemplative numbers ‘Into my Arms’, ‘God is in the House’, but most of the time the stage looked like chaos, an organized chaos dominated by Nick Cave’s strong presence.
Wrongly, I never talk about the rest of the band, and I regret I could not see very well the amazing Warren Ellis, moving from his guitar to his violin with an electrifying energy, or the rest of the musicians, plainly responsible for this celebration of music. They were building a tension when Nick Cave was at the edge of the stage, stabbing and firing the crowd, injecting violence into songs, but being almost silent when Cave’s voice was the only thing that mattered. Otherwise you would have never realized that ‘Stagger Lee’ has more ‘motherfuckers’, profanity and sex than a rap song. During this same number, Nick Cave crawled through the audience, got up to the middle of it, had fun with people, and the first line of the song ‘Take a little walk to the edge of town’ took a whole new meaning.
He was a ghost, a God, a man, a guru,… ‘Listen’, he said many times to the crowd, managing to get people fully involved even during the metaphysical ruminating poetry of ‘Higgs Boson Blues’, repeating many times ‘Can you feel my heartbeat?… no no no….. yeah yeah yeah’, while looking right into the eyes of the happy pit people.
On my way to the exit, I was only seeing ecstatic people, talking about how phenomenal the show was, and I don’t think there was one person in the room whose breath hadn’t been taken away by the experience.
‘Some people say it is just Rock and Roll’, but Nick Cave was clearly on a mission, a mission to bring all his song characters alive, Robert Johnson and the Devil, Jack the Ripper, Stagger Lee and Orpheus, on a mission to shake everyone’s consciousness. He was bringing joy and tears, he was contemplating murder by blending reality and his own mythology, confronting death by pushing the sky away.
We real cool
Red Right Hand
From Her to Eternity
West Country Girl
Into my Arms
God is in the House
The Weeping Song
Higgs Boson Blues
The Mercy Seat
Push the Sky Away
Jack the Ripper
Do You Love Me
Lyre of Orpheus