A Nick Cave show is not so much a rock concert as it is an anthology of Gothic tales put to music. It’s got the ferocity of the former and the sweeping dramatic flair of the latter. It’s an experience every music fan should experience once in their lives, and it’s something the lucky crowd at Massey Hall got to enjoy this past Wednesday night when he took to the stage with his band The Bad Seeds.
Watching the Australian performer on stage is a show unto itself. There’s a very distinct family of adjectives that one uses when describing Nick Cave: bold, lithe, and mesmerizing. He’s fully sunk himself into his art, and it can be seen in every one of his movements. Cave commands emotion like a seasoned veteran of a Broadway stage, prowling from one end to the other and waving his arms as if he’s conjuring spirits. His voice goes from a whisper to a howl, a dark rasp to a full-blooded shriek.
Each song is an oft-mythic narrative that tells the tale of a character in turmoil, either existential or spiritual. They’re tales of despair, obsession, and primal feelings- all often within the same song. The set was a lengthy twenty songs, but it was impossible to lose interest;
with over three decades of material there was a lot of catalogue to explore. Everyone was rapt with attention for the entire two hours, particularly those gathered at the front of the stage. A sea of outstretched arms often followed Cave, and the scene of him interacting with his fans often looked like an oil painting from days of old.
Everything about the performance felt like it was preserved in a time capsule from the nineteenth century. The austere, evocative lighting switched hues that perfectly matched each macabre song; they were gloomy during opener “Anthrocene”, stark during the bleak “Tupelo”, and on full blast during the explosive “Jubilee Street”.
Other highlights were 1988’s “The Mercy Seat”, a long time fan favourite, and the seven minute long “Higgs Boson Blues” from 2013’s Push the Sky Away. It was the title track from that record that closed out the set, which even after a five song encore felt like it had only breached the surface of Cave’s catalogue. It’s a testament to the man’s singular vision and enduring charisma that even after over thirty years his material remains as vital as ever.
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