April 29, 2002
BY JIM DEROGATIS POP
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds specialize in songs about men in dark and
desperate situations: the righteous con strapped in the electric chair, the
psychopath on a wild killing spree, or the invalid writer wandering
half-naked into the cold, rainy night.
How is it, then, that the group's jaw-dropping show at the Chicago
Theatre Friday night left the sold-out crowd feeling so ecstatic?
Even though the eight musicians hail from several different continents
and a wide array of diverse backgrounds, at heart, their music is deeply
rooted in the myths of America and the timeless, mysterious strains of the
blues. And the function of the blues has always been catharsis.
There's nothing like two hours of murder and mayhem passionately acted
out onstage to leave you feeling downright giddy and cheerful.
Cave's tour in support of last year's stellar "No More Shall We Part" was
postponed by Sept. 11. The last time he was through, shortly before the
album's release, he performed many of the new tunes stripped-down and
semi-acoustic at the Park West.
But nothing beats the full-on sonic assault of the Bad Seeds, who
transform his moody, literary vignettes into high drama with wave after wave
of dynamic crescendos and some of the most inspired playing in rock history.
Looking like a German Robert Mitchum in "Night of the Hunter,"
Einsturzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld added slashing noise guitar and
twisted surf licks, as well as performing a beautiful duet with Cave on "The
Weeping Song" and screaming like a tortured banshee during the bravura
encore of "Stagger Lee."
Warren Ellis of the Dirty Three alternated between folksy fiddling and a
perverse update of classical violin; percussionist Jim Sclavunos was a man
possessed as he hammered his orchestra chimes during "Red Right Hand," and
as always, rhythm guitarist Mick Harvey was the quiet, low-key orchestrator
who held it all together.
The Bad Seeds enabled Cave to transform himself into the characters in
his songs. Dressed in a green velvet suit coat, he was Al Green on a gospel
high crossed with Dean Martin at his offhand coolest, with a touch of Iggy
Pop for good measure.
"God is in the house," he sang in one of the night's most moving moments.
Such was his intensity that the crowd had no problem believing that at all.
Opening for Cave was Chicago's own Neko Case, who shares a similar method
of mining the dark side for rays of light, but whose music is steeped in the
purest country rather than the blues.
Performing with spartan backing from bassist Tom Ray and the amazing
multi-instrumentalist John Rauhouse, Case's voice shined--a single
instrument that was nearly as potent as the all-out onslaught of the Bad
Seeds. Her set sampled tunes from several releases and provided an enticing
taste of her forthcoming album on Bloodshot.