Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds @ Massey Hall (live review)

A sold out mob packed Massey Hall in Toronto on Saturday night to take in the one sure-fire show (nominally) on this year's Canadian Music Week schedule as Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds brought their dramatic rock show to town.

The first portion of the evening was dedicated to songs from the new album Push the Sky Away.  The eerie "We No Who U R" kicked things off.  "Wide Lovely Eyes", "Higgs Boson Blues", and "We Real Cool", were a mixed bag of intensity and uncharacteristic stretches of boredom.  The single "Jubilee Street" grew from a self-reflective confessional into a swirling frenzy.

The cacophonous outburst of tightly coordinated noise that is 1984's "From Her To Eternity" marked the beginning of the section that everyone really wanted to hear.  Dark numbers including "Jack The Ripper", "Deanna", a slightly shambolic "Red Right Hand", and one of my personal favorites "The Weeping Song" dominated the balance of the set.

A string quintet and a twenty voice choir from a local elementary school aided the 7-piece Bad Seeds throughout the evening.  The kids earned themselves a standing ovation, particularly for their work on "O Children" and "The Ship Song".

The constantly building momentum of "The Mercy Seat" is always welcome.  On this night it grew from an acoustic guitar strum into a fiery onslaught, with each band member seemingly making as much noise as he possibly could while Cave adamantly professed his innocence, right up until the last moment.

On only one occasion did Cave take the piano himself for any length of time.  That was on the unspectacular No More Shall We Part track "Love Letter".

Cave himself was in in full theatrical mode.  His steely glare fixed on various audience members as he stomped, thrashed, and preached through the set.  At no time was is creepier than on Murder Ballad favorite "Stagger Lee".  Something was a little off however.  The sinister preacher act seemed slightly more contrived this time than it has in the past.  It was still powerful, but never transcendent.

A two song encore closed out the set.  It began with a surprisingly delicate rendition of "Push the Sky Away", which was strong enough to make one want to revisit and reassess the album version.  A crowd-pleasing thunderous "Tupelo" ensured that the audience was completely spent when they went home.

Critically-acclaimed songwriter Sharon Van Etten opened the evening.  Performing as a guitar/drums duo she exuded charm.  This was my second time seeing Van Etten perform, and even though she was far more confident and forceful this time out, her music is much more enjoyable on record.  The her scratchy vocals just couldn't cut through the fuzz enough for you to grasp her lyrics in the way you would want.

In all it wasn't the best Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds show.  That still means it will remain a contender for Toronto concert of the year when the time rolls around.


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