Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
with Black Mountain
at the Kool Haus
October 1st, 2008
By Peter Gorman
Having ceded the Polaris Music Prize earlier this week to Dundas, Ontario’s Dan Snaith (aka Caribou) —whose Andorra exhibits a sun-kissed brand of psychedelia that could justly be described as a very distant cousin of the kind that Black Mountain indulges in (think Sabbath and The Zombies Family Reunion — awkward!) — Vancouver’s Black Mountain nevertheless appear to be moving up in the world. No longer opening for the likes of Coldplay, they recently managed to secure a last-minute opening slot at the Kool Haus with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.
Knowing full well the kind of adrenaline-fuelled, barn-burning rock’n'roll display they are prefacing, Stephen McBean and his Black Mountaineers keep the showmanship restrained, the guitar pyrotechnics muted, and the stage banter to a minimum. Still, McBean’s turbulent axe-work, Amber Webber’s dulcet, shivering harmonies, and especially Jeremy Schmidt’s precise keyboard work — gossamer synth lines and cozy Mellotron textures — carry a strong, utterly satisfying set. To top it off, they close with In the Future’s seriously epic “Tyrants”, arguably the finest representation of the band’s strengths.
Okay then: time for Nick Cave. No 51-year-old oughta be such a heartthrob — least of all one with a neck-length coif slicked back to reveal a slowly receding hairline, oily handlebars draped over his lip, and thick caterpillar eyebrows, who is dressed head to toe in used-car salesman pinstripes, relentlessly hip-thrusting. But hell, the man knows how to put on a show. And make the ladies swoon.
Yet, not even his most adoring female followers can rest assured that they’d escape Cave’s wrath. Mid-set, upon drying off and tossing his towel back into the crowd, to “Jennifer, the keeper of the towel,” Cave exclaims over his shoulder, “If I find that listed on fucking eBay, I will hunt you down and fucking excoriate you!” (All in jest… but I wouldn’t dare cross Nick Cave, if I were you.)
Anyhow, the Aussie bandleader and his Bad Seeds (seven-strong, altogether), touring behind their wonderful new record, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, are all F-bombs, all night. Not just fucks — though plenty of Cave’s homilies are punctuated by that four-letter word or one of its variations — but fireworks, ferocity, and freakouts. Hell, not to mention facial hair. And speaking of facial hair (and freakouts): Warren Ellis, stage left, is absolutely possessed, alternately seizuring on the floor with his Mandocaster or hacking furiously away at his viola, fiddling while the Bad Seeds burn.
Opening with “Night of the Lotus Eaters” — which takes everything that lurks just below the surface of the album version and channels it into a percussion-heavy (two drumkits!), krautrock-at-half-speed workout — and following with the new record’s gleeful, singalong title-track, the Bad Seeds are, from there on in, unstoppable. Though brusquely dismissing a call for “No Pussy Blues” (Grinderman is made up of about half the Bad Seed fellows), Cave is otherwise thoroughly open to requests, blistering through material old and new: an exhilirating “Red Right Hand”, delicate (murderless) ballad “Love Letter”, a swagger ‘n’ swaying “Ship Song”, a batshit-crazy “We Call Upon the Author to Explain”, and finally, a fiery, lilting “Papa Won`t Leave You, Henry”.
It’s only when the band ultimately returns for an encore that they find time for 2004’s Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus (“from Nick Cave’s deeply religious period,” as the man himself jokes), tearing through “Get Ready for Love” and leading the crowd in a glorious “Lyre of Orpheus” call-and-response (“Oh mama!”). Feeling “completely delirious” (much like everybody else in the room), the Bad Seeds can only handle one more, and make it count with “Stagger Lee”, which is every bit as scrappy and ferocious as anything they’ve played all night.
On the bike ride home, every sorry soul we pass seems lifted straight out of a Nick Cave song, residents of a city where “half the people had turned into squealing pigs / that the other half were cooking”: the kid working late for minimum-wage at the dry cleaner; a pair of lingerie-clad girls freezing their asses off in the upstairs windows of some filthy, half-empty King West dance bar; the homeless man sprawled against the bus stop garbage bin, not quite mad but still fervently, incoherently warbling through “The Star-Spangled Banner”… (Is this what the end of an empire sounds like?)
It’s like the song goes, though tonight it never came: More News from Nowhere. It gets stranger every year.