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Photo by James Broscheid
Bookended by two of his more restrained songs in “Anthrocene” (from 2016’s devastating Skeleton Tree), and the title track from 2012’s Push the Sky Away respectively, Nick Cave stormed into a sold out Paramount Theatre and provided one of the most intense live performances in recent memory. A healthy dose of Cave’s set list comprised songs from Skeleton Tree (in fact, the entire album was played save one track), and provided a macabre autobiography of a parent navigating through what it means to lose a child. Personally the most heart-breaking moment was “I Need You”, a desperate account that encapsulates the sheer desperation and devastation of what it means to lose someone you want back so bad but can’t have. Cave’s grief is more than evident in this rendition having tragically lost a son back in 2015.
Despite the somber reflection of the evening’s trio of Skeleton Tree tracks opening the set (the Grinderman-esque “Jesus Alone” & eerie “Magneto”), Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds provided a roller-coaster of emotion as they broke into “Higgs Boson Blues”; a building number that gives fans a subtle hint of what band leader Warren Ellis’ other project The Dirty Three would sound like with vocals. Another heightened moment came courtesy of Push the Sky Away’s finest; “Jubilee Street” had Cave at his interactive best, embracing the entranced crowd at every sway as his cadence increased along with the song’s crescendo.
Seasoned Cave fans rejoiced in the latter day versions of both 1994’s “Red Right Hand” and 1988’s “The Mercy Seat”. Ellis absolutely shredding the bow of his violin during the latter’s sinister climax while the former’s cryptic feel and flawless rendition kept the audience dangling in suspense and the stage bathed in red, as if they were the house band of Hades. Even touching on 1984 debut, “From Her To Eternity” with its tribal, thunderous chorus from which Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds never turned back as Cave’s seemingly boundless energy demanded as much from the audience.
Photo by James Broscheid
Closing the main set as they started, Cave and company turned down the volume but maintained intensity with Skeleton Tree’s “Distant Sky” and the sublime title track with its first chorus of “I called out, I called out/Right across the sea/But the echo comes back empty/Nothing is for free” being more poignant live than on record.
Come encore, Cave invited the crowd onto the stage for perhaps the band’s most notorious live number, “Stagger Lee” played out like graphic Quentin Tarantino western. The more the crowd invaded the stage, the less time Cave spent up there. Meandering through the masses, Cave demands attention via audience participation with an attacking yet inviting style. Like a magnet, Cave attracted human contact throughout the night; affirming the audience investments in the songs are every bit as important as the band’s.
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