field report no.060717

LOCATION: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

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

Let Love In

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds,1994

I got on board with Nick Cave and Bad Seeds right before this: Henry's Dream had flipped my lid, and I was well into trying to gather everything I could find by them by the time Let Love In came around—which is fortuitous, as it appears to be an odds-on favorite with both fans and critics. Additionally, around this time, Nick cut a couple of songs for Wim Wenders not-so-classic sequel to his his classic Wings of Desire, and those songs were included on the b-sides of Let Love In singles. One of those songs, Cassiel's Song is, to this very day, one of my favorites in his catalog and what I have long envisioned as what ought to be played at my funeral. (It's worth noting that I was beyond obsessed with Wenders' Until the End of the World—who's soundtrack was the first I'd ever heard of Nick Cave...) All this is to say, Let Love In was a nearly obvious choice for me.

Looking back, my fandom was sort of readymade for Nick by Tom Waits. Listen to Let Love In and tell me you cannot picture what Tom Waits' cover version of any song on it would sound like. It's not that Waits necessarily gave Cave a path out of a creative cul de sac, but more that they are mining a similar vein of songwriting and are both breathing the same rarified air of greatness. Sure, this album had Red Right Hand on it—now used in more movies than can be counted (a great fucking song, mind you)—but nearly every song on this album is in a class of its own. Truly legendary.