Striding confidently onstage in the wake of his Bad Seeds, Nick Cave demonstrated some things that might not have previously seemed possible. For example, you can indeed look resplendent in black. And you can bend time and cover the space of 30 years over the course of two unrelenting hours of rock ‘n’ roll. Touring in support of newly-released Push the Sky Away, Cave and company were greeted at Strathmore Hall with rapturous applause which they would return in kind with a robust set spanning their decades-long career.
Perhaps it is no surprise that the Bad Seeds began with a collection of songs from their new masterpiece. The band wasted no time establishing the tone for the evening and demonstrating the intensity that has been their forte through battles with addiction, lineup changes, and stylistic detours, beginning with the somber “We No Who U R” and a rendition of “Jubilee Street” that surpassed the studio version in tempo and ferocity before building to a breathtaking crescendo. Cave would then orchestrate the first of a number of shifts between terror and tenderness, noting that the majestic “Wide Lovely Eyes” was written for his wife. The calm did not last long, as a viscerally menacing “Higgs Boson Blues” was followed by the gripping title track from Bad Seeds’ debut album From Her to Eternity. Cave spent most of the latter cajoling and eventually physically pulling enthusiastic attendees forward to fill the space between the stage and the front row (He would later note that he “just realized this isn’t the 1:30 Club,” [sic] to the amusement of all.).
Throughout the evening, multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, bass player Martyn Casey, percussionist Jim Sclavunos and the rest of the Bad Seeds provided a firm foundation for compositions that were stately (“Love Letter,” ”Into My Arms”), sinister (“Stagger Lee,” “Your Funeral, My Trial”), sarcastic (“God Is In the House”), and sometimes all of the above simultaneously (“Red Right Hand”). The 18 song set reflected 10 of the band’s 15 studio albums and a variety of moods that could only be conveyed by a confident, cohesive, skilled collective of talented musicians. The Bad Seeds were supported on many songs by blues-punk rocker Shilpa Ray and the haunting voice of supporting act Sharon Van Etten on backing vocals.
Van Etten, performing primarily on electric guitar and accompanied by drummer Zeke Hutchins, got the evening started with a transcendent (if abbreviated) set of original material. After a whirlwind tour in support of her 2012 masterwork Tramp Van Etten intended to take some time off from touring, but the opportunity to join Cave on the road was too alluring to resist, and the audience received her set warmly. She thrilled with unreleased (and untitled) material honed on her headlining tour as well as well-worn standouts like “Consolation Prize” and a mesmerizing rendition of Tramp gem “Give Out.” Any rest she gets after her travels with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds will be well earned indeed.