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Cave Matures Without Mellowing Out

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Chicago Theatre
Chicago, IL
April 26, 2002
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Review and Photo by Tony Bonyata

On his last couple of albums it may appear to the casual observer that Nick Cave, cofounder of the volatile early '80s punk act The Birthday Party, may be mellowing out, but judging from his fervent performance last Friday night at the Chicago Theater (originally scheduled last September but postponed due to the terrorist attacks) this was a man who still possessed all of the power, passion and anger of his younger self.
Nick Cave Although the show featured many of the same songs performed on his stop through Chicago earlier last year, there was quite a different tone to these numbers now. While he executed his entire last stint behind a grand piano with a stripped down trio, Cave's performance last Friday saw him as a potent frontman working his faithful believers into a frenzy like an impassioned southern Baptist preacher.
Bringing along his longtime 7-piece band The Bad Seeds, featuring former Birthday Party guitarist Mick Harvey, violinist extraordinaire Warren Ellis and former Einsturzende Neubauten deconstructionist / guitarist Blixa Bargeld, the rail thin Cave, clad in black trousers, green velvet jacket and perpetual cigarette, ran through the lion's share of his latest album No More Shall We Part, while interjecting older favorites such as "Do You Love Me," the deliciously sinister "Red Right Hand," "The Ship Song" and "The Mercy Seat," a song which told the tale of man awaiting the electric chair, which Johnny Cash (a man who also knows a thing or two about a good murder ballad) covered on his last album.
While the Bad Seeds, who haven't appeared in the States with Cave since 1994, added a quiet,velvet touch to somber numbers such as "As I Sat Sadly By Her Side," "We Came Along This Road" and the hauntingly beautiful "Lime-Tree Arbour," they also unleashed a cacophony of sonic mayhem and injected disturbing dynamics into others. Cave may have appeared possessed as he flailed and convulsed across the stage during the fierce endings of "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry" or "The Mercy Seat," but it was the thundering percussion and bombastic music from fellow Seeds that obviously fueled him to this heightened state of madness. With his back to the audience and hunched over his instrument, with legs desperately in search of dust to kick, Ellis added his frighteningly fierce violin to the heart-stopping climax of "Oh My Lord," while Bargeld stood stoically erect throughout the evening, as he calmly peppered in scary strains of noisy feedback and jarring discord.
After a mis-start on "And No More Shall We Part," Cave, now seated behind his piano, broke into "Love Letter," one of his most frail and touching compositions. Ironically, however, not everybody's idea of love was the same as Cave's, as a couple in the midst of the audience loudly argued and traded fists, shattering the tender sentiments of the number.
Saving a couple of the evening's highlights for his encores, Cave broke into two of his epic murder ballads. "This next song is a long one," Cave explained. "We always fuck this up. Well, I always fuck this up," he admitted as a hooded stagehand held cue cards for him to recite the grisly, detailed account of a woman's murderous spree on "The Curse of Millhaven." Exorcizing every last demon from the stage, the band then proceeded to tear into their own diabolical take of "Stagger Lee," one of America's earliest known folk songs.
On record Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds may be gracefully maturing, but as a live act they, thankfully, still hold onto the dangerous essence of their explosive youth.

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