Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
State Theatre, Minneapolis
Saturday, June 21
"I'm transforming. Look at me now!" Nick Cave proselytized near the beginning of his sold-out show with his trusty Bad Seeds at the State Theatre on Saturday night. Throughout the course of the 110-minute, career-spanning performance, Cave assumed many different guises: menacing evangelist, twisted carnival barker, sexual deviant, and tender balladeer.
Three songs into the set, he demolished the fourth wall by singing from deep within the crowd, immediately making the theater feel more like an intimate club. Whether Cave was balanced precariously on the edges of the seats of his faithful believers or prowling the stage, we didn't dare look away as he repeatedly laid himself bare before us.
The show started innocently enough, with the crowd collectively rising to greet the band, whose last Minneapolis appearance was over a decade ago. Cave led the five-piece Bad Seeds through an atmospheric run through of "We No Who U R," which served as a warmup for the journey he was about to take us on. After Cave goaded the front rows to get rid of their seats, even though some of them were bolted down ("That didn't stop 'em in Milwaukee"), another standout from 2013's Push The Sky Away followed, the slow-burning "Jubilee Street," with its significant line about transformation. The new material took on added teeth in a live setting, with the dexterous Bad Seeds adding layers of din while the 56-year-old Cave served as a mad conductor, his larger-than-life shadows playing against the walls.
The entire performance was a physical and mental workout for Cave, who set out to exorcise demons from his past with each number, while awakening some ghosts in the audience. That dark communion continued throughout the night. By the time Cave dug deep for a three-decades-old gem from The Firstborn Is Dead, "Tupelo," he grew tired of being merely watched and adored by the audience. So he stepped atop the seats through the middle of the first 15 rows, singing his disquieting tale while the crowd held him up. We became unified in the moment as one sordid congregation, and from here we would follow anywhere Cave chose to lead us.
The minimal stage set and lighting put the focus squarely on the music. The houselights bathed the band in a blood-red luster for "Red Right Hand," with Cave pulling a woman from the audience who he sang to directly, giving her own personal sonic baptism. "Mermaids" was a graphic seafaring shanty that built to an anthemic chorus, with the czar-like Warren Ellis adding a dense layer of guitar to the growing squall. Nick lost his customary pinstripe suit jacket for a moving rendition of "The Weeping Song," as his metallic gold shirt glistened with a growing layer of sweat as he exerted himself from all corners of the stage.
The title track from Cave's 1984 debut with the Bad Seeds, "From Her to Eternity," had a discordant, post-punk edge, with Nick delivering his debauched "Hey sister...hey brother" exchange directly in the face of transfixed fans who have long since been converted. Ellis's funereal violin strains colored a somber, wistful take on "West Country Girl," which started a double shot of tracks from 1997's The Boatman's Call, as Cave settled behind the piano for an exquisite take on "Into My Arms."
He stayed at the bench for a stunning version of "Love Letter," which hasn't been on many setlists recently and was a highlight of the show. Those two solemn, vulnerable numbers again provided the crowd with moments of real intimacy that don't typically take place in larger venues, as Cave invited a theater of devotees around to the seedy corner piano bar to weep along to his heartbreaking songs.
The tempestuous new number "Higgs Boson Blues" is the first rock song in history to reference both Robert Johnson and Miley Cyrus, with Cave echoing his distant contemporary Bob Dylan's peculiar shout-out to Alicia Keys in his recent work. The current music climate must fascinate these veteran artists, as these starlets somehow find their way into their modern sound in acerbic ways. But rather than relying on the over-the-top gimmicks of today's lascivious arena acts, Cave kept offering us something real, even if what he presented to us was frightening in its brutal honesty. To take a look behind his blood-spattered curtain is to gaze deeply into a macabre world of woe.
The lights brightened ever so slightly as Cave led the group through the volatile "The Mercy Seat" -- as if the bleak capital punishment themes of the song were too dark for the venue to take, so some illumination was necessary. Cave tossed his mic violently across the stage as the track reached its climax, and danced wildly in time to the beat now that he was unencumbered by the responsibility to sing.[page]
The tense, explosive end to the main set continued with "Stagger Lee," which began with a slinky, ominous arrangement that gradually gave way a graphic, desperate blues full of menace and murder. Cave once again returned to the middle of the crowd to serenade us with the encouraging undertones of "Push the Sky Away," which blossomed into a real showstopper that brought the main set to a stirring close. The muted arrangements of the band gave the number a regal majesty, while the room remained stone silent as Cave offered up another darkened part of his soul to us.
The thunderous ovation continued for a few minutes until the band returned to the stage. Cave immediately settled in behind the piano for "The Ship Song," which proved to be another highlight. "All right, we'll try this one," Cave then announced, as he rallied the band for a dynamic, keys-laden version of the Let Love In standout "Do You Love Me?" which hadn't been played yet on their current tour. It was a glorious surprise in a night full of them. The tender mythological ode "The Lyre of Orpheus" brought the performance to a fabled end, as Cave along with everyone who witnessed his show completed our collective mercurial transformation.
Personal Bias: I first saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds back in 2002, and have been waiting for the chance to see them live again. Cave's blistering First Avenue show with Grinderman in 2010 served as a terrific stopgap, but it was due time that Cave and the Seeds returned to a local stage.
The Crowd: A full house packed with dedicated fans of the band, who respectfully witnessed the spectacle unfolding onstage without too much pointless chatter or unending cell phone pics.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I want to lick every inch of Nick Cave's forehead."
A Note About the Opener: L.A.'s Warpaint played a quick half-hour opening set that found them shrouded in darkness and subtle neon flourishes as their textured, slow-burning electro-rock songs blossomed elegantly in the slowly filling theater. While their recent headlining set at First Avenue was stirring and stylish, this opening slot ultimately proved too short for their sonic charms to fully reveal themselves to a mostly unfamiliar audience.
We No Who U R
Red Right Hand
The Weeping Song
From Her to Eternity
West Country Girl
Into My Arms
Higgs Boson Blues
The Mercy Seat
Push the Sky Away
-- Encore --
The Ship Song
Do You Love Me?
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