In support of his acclaimed 2013 record, Push The Sky Away, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds furiously delivered an ambitious set of orchestrated poetic folk in the first of two evening performances at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre. Pulling many classic favourites from throughout the Bad Seed’s catalogue, Cave & company astonished an the audience with overflowing charisma, abstract lyrical adventure, tasteful arrangements and exceptional musicianship The formidable ambition of Push The Sky Away not only suggests that the Bad Seeds are at the top of their game, but potentially also achieve future artistic heights.
Supporting the Bad Seeds with an opening set was Mark Lanegan, member of the 90s rock group The Screaming Trees as well as The Gutter Twins and collaborations with Queens of the Stone Age, including their seminal release Songs for the Deaf. Another male singer with a textured voice of particular note, Lanegan dusted off a few old cuts and a few timeless covers (such as Bertolt Brecht’s “Mack the Knife”) accompanied with only a single, clean electric guitar. Showing a lyrical knack similar to Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan’s vocals were especially convincing in their self reflection such as “Phantasmagoria Blues” from his solo record Blues Funeral; “thought I’d rule like Charlemagne/ But I’ve become corrupt/ now I crawl the promenade to fill my empty cup.” Singing in darkness, Lanegan’s set was illuminated only by a few spares beams of red stage light. The dreamy pensive environment ended all too quickly and could only be criticized as overly brief; his dusty vocals and stoic stage presence provided a perfect accompanying set for the headliner.
From the very beginning of the performance, hundreds of determined fans gathered in stance at the front of the stage. There was a feeling of electric excitement as abnormally impassioned cheers welcomed the subtle electro pop beat of the opening number “We No Who U R.” A dreamy minor key song with gentle creeping organ, simmering atmosphere and signature wandering lyrics, “We go down with the dew in the morning/ and we breathe it in/ there is no need to forgive.” Nick Cave’s notoriety strongly stems from his stony voice and exquisite lyrics; vivid shadowy imagery invoking the trials of a dangerous world or imperfect interpretations of justice, guilt, love and anger remain his hallmark
Nick Cave was quick to wander into the front rows of the ornate seated theatre and sang stoically in a sea of hands; the enthusiastic devotion towards Cave nears cultist reverence. Starting with a quiet number, the excitement quickly germinated as the Bad Seeds warmed up and began to blossom; Warren Elis’ stood transfixed in a stare facing the drummer and led the Bad Seeds into the looping guitar melody of “Jubilee Street, provoking a rapturous set of cheers from the bulging crowd at the stage front. The ambitious crescendo of dreamy organ, persistent hypnotic, meditative guitar solo and wild shrieks of an electrified violin pushed Nick Cave into overdrive as he shouted “I am beyond recrimination…/ I am flying/ look at me now” with fatal romantic ferocity.
The astounding merit of the pair openers set a strong standard that would continue throughout the evening. Many cuts from Push The Sky Away intertwined with various classics from through Cave’s storied career including “Red Right Hand” and “The Mercy Seat.” A few favourites from The Boatman’s Call also made the cut;the touching romantic fantasy “Into My Arms” and the grudging reflection of “People Ain’t No Good” were keenly applauded. Nick Cave remains notable for his distinctive style of piano ballad minimalism but his recent activities outside of the Bad Seeds has seemingly influenced his musical directions; in recent years he has released a pair of acclaimed gritty poetic rock albums with his side project Grinderman as well as numerous film score collaborations with the Bad Seeds leader Warren Elis. Casually switching between electric guitar, mandolin and violins throughout the evening, Elis’ convincing touch added significant musical range to the seven piece band.
Mark Lanegan returned to the stage to lend his dusty tenor voice for collaboration on “The Weeping Song,” signing the verses as Mr. Cave lead his band and audience in a choral verse. Another new album standout, “Higgs Boson Blues” distinguishes itself in the performance with its absurd observations of Miley Cyrus and meandering intensity. As the evening’s performances continued, Cave & company ought to be commended for their endurance, the singer’s dark suit jacket and collared shirt showed signs of profuse perspiration. Playing a song not on the set list at the request of an audience member, Nick Cave joked about multi-instrumentalist Warren Elis having to quickly change out his guitar gear in order to fulfill the request.
Appearing jovial without sign of disinterest or misstep, The Bad Seeds played a song or two past the Orpheum Theatre’s 11:00 curfew. Delighted, the audience filtered out to Granville, happily brimming from the poetic aftermath. “I will never miss another Nick Cave show in Vancouver again,” commented an observer. The serene acoustics and grandiose atmosphere of the theatre contributed to the mood served Cave’s melodious romanticism well. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds have set an admirable high water mark.
Photos of the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds © Jamie Taylor