Over the years, and especially since the early 90s, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have honed their skills, evolving into a captivating band for large venues without giving up a very real sense of intimacy. They are playing their music, yes, but they are performing as well.
That they've endured long enough to grow into this role is stunning. Their origins, stretching back to the Birthday Party, are by no means populist, let alone stadium material. Cave has passed through years of self-inflicted obscurity and even more self-abuse (in the form of drugs). By persevering without compromise, they've now arrived on the other side with with critical acclaim, but also a large and loyal fan base, and a deep well of songs—no small number of which are just awaiting acknowledgement as classics in the canon.
Their extended set was heavy on recent material: the harrowing Skeleton Tree and the acclaimed Push the Sky Away. They still had plenty of time to touch on crowd favorites from their back catalogue (they had just released a Greatest Hits collection, after all). For the first time, I realized one of his most enduring tracks, the elegiac Into My Arms, was in essence, the best Leonard Cohen song Nick Cave has ever written. It's poetics are unexpected while still managing a sincere and heartfelt sentiment. It's a song sure to be covered often in the future.
As a title, I Need You might seem as plaintive as Into My Arms, but that's a feint. Each verse dwells in a strange key, always feeling out of tune. For a fleeting chorus, the group will rise into beauteous reprieve, only to fall back again. His words revolve in cyclical, maddening mantras. I Need You is pure, confused desperation distilled to song form. Cave's powerful delivery and presence make it impossible to imagine any cover version. I Need You was a singular highlight of the night, even though it's a song I had somewhat passed over when listening to Skeleton Tree.
I've been lucky to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds a few times now. Each has vastly improved upon the last—no mean feat for an artist who's career itself is now middle-aged. While it seemed odd the only show in the Southeastern US on this tour was in Asheville, since I'm both a resident and a fan, I won't challenge such fates. And while I'd love to see the band dig into their back catalogue for dusty gems instead of fan favorites, I'll always be grateful for whatever Saint Nick sees fit to grant us.
NOTES: All Cave
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F.