Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds At The Beacon Theatre, Tuesday, June 13th, 2017, Reviewed
There are people who see pop music as communal and community, a coming together of the faithful with a religious intensity, a sharing beyond sharing: a cult of love. And for them I give you Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds : an intense, emotionally draining, rock and roll revivalism where we come together to rise our fists in defiance in the face of an isolationist deity. And if that’s you, well, here you go. But it isn’t me, and it shouldn’t necessarily be the Australian shaman whose dabbling in notions of evil would one day bring him to his knees , and the horrifying realization that evil is nothing more than bad luck.
But for those of us who view music as a consumer pop art, who not only don’t join in but find it stressful to be pushed in as Cave, against the wishes of the Beacon Theatre, who know a thing or two about crowd control, allowed the audience at his concert last night to fill the aisles in the orchestra, might enjoy the experience decidedly less. Cave’s cupidity made it impossible to see the stage as this sea of people rushed to Cave who beckoned them forward. The entire orchestra was a push away from disaster, as though all the lessons learnt from the Who’s Cincinnati concert 1979 had been forgotten. I spoke to the head of security at the Beacon, who told me about a meeting with Cave earlier that day where they pleaded with him not to do it. The urge to connect with his audience, part messianic bullshit, part a literal reaching out to people, was dangerous and ruined what was, in fact, a pretty good set.
Cave has things to tell us about human nature, even though he hasn’t cleared them through to their natural conclusions. When you are a child, evil is a force that terrifies you, and when you grow older, it is a banal ordinariness of average people doing terrible things, but if you live long enough in a certain manner, evil is happenstance, timing, evil just is and all the worse because it isn’t aimed at you, it doesn’t care about you: you are just in the way. And that’s what evil is. Cave knows this as well as I do, better, and though he has spent his career tying myth to sound, using the intensity of workmanlike horror to make music that is like waves of joyful nausea, it hasn’t done enough for him or us because It is fiction and self-deluding and, in the end, pretentious. Perhaps I mean portentous, Cave has always promised more than he can provide, good for a coupla tracks an album, his tall, dark, childlike handsomeness promises an understanding Dracula performance, and his intensity is not always backed up by the material. You can hear things of great value throughout his career and also things of much less value.
Last night, “Tupelo,” off a 1986 album, was transfixing in its intensity, not performed last night, “Dig, Lazarus, Dig” is Jungian in its complexity, the deeply moving “Into My Arms” is a straight up love song. Everything, from “Anthrocene” and “Jesus Alone” to “Rings Of Saturn,” off his greatest achievement, Skeleton Tree, was superb. “Jesus Alone” alone almost made up for the hazardous aisle problem. The “With my voice, I am calling you” is very effective and moving. More than a concert, Nick was attempting a meeting of people in care. Much like his claim in “Once More With Feeling,” that strangers in the street were so extremely kind to him, and it is as if in his tragedy (his 15 year old son fell to his death in 2015) he reaches towards us in a type of communion.
But at an average of eight minutes a song, Nick doesn’t know where to give it a rest, the atmosphere is too hopped up and intrusive, and while the obstreperous to melodic and back, meshed with his Rev. Harry Powell impression, was unique, the tone wasn’t quite right: he can’t sell us on his old visions. Warren Ellis is the point person here, a vision of Old Testament wrath who can play noise so well you wonder if he is auditioning for Glen Branca. The take away is modern Americana as gothic story boarding. More blues than folk. The Bad Seeds are a great band playing a type of music I am not crazy about and the intensity veers awful close to gloating in their strengths that doesn’t quite coincide with their skills. Emotionally, from “The Beast it cometh, cometh down” to “out of her night-mare, and back into mine,” to “he’s a ghost, he’s a guru” it accumulates over whelmed bad vibes tied to natural horrors and an odd self-regard. Cave’s favorite word is “I” and he never even tries to create a world away from that self, it is like Joseph Campbell and Freud had a child and it cried a lot. Myth as self as the pain. But it is bad thinking, Nick isn’t as clever as he pretends to be, and his worst songs, of which there are plenty and not unlike U2 or Hillsong United, they are all conflations of God and Man, can’t withstand deconstruction. What I’m getting at is he can kinda sucks and when he sucks his act feels like performance pure and simple and his inconvenient overheated performance doesn’t deserve what it asks of us. Yes, we know he has earned it, but we feel as though he hasn’t.
Skeleton Tree finds a way through the horror to a resolution of his, and his families, sorrow, resting on unsettled earthquake which makes mincemeat of every horror he or we have ever known. When I was around seventeen years of age, my father’s colleague’s four sons drowned in a boating accident. I was there when they fished the boys out and I was there when their father and mother simply collapsed. This is the sort of cold evil that Cave has lived through, and which he tries to get through in a community of love, you shiver together, you share the intersection of life and bereft, only deeper and more worrisome and he for one doesn’t end it when it ends. It doesn’t work for me. I am not one to join anything, I despise organizations as a matter of pride, and I despise the power of the crowd, and I despised Cave’s performance even as it ripped me apart.