Nick Cave as "Saint Huck" (Photo By John Anderson)
Nick Cave & the Bad SeedsStubb's, May 8
It came at the very end, during "Stagger Lee," the second song of the second and final encore. At the end of two alternately pensive and pounding hours that Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds preached sin and salvation from the pulpit of Stubb's outdoor stage. During a song with which Cave and company apparently like to drive home the final nail of their crucifying live performances. "Here comes the Devil," growled Cave, the song's foul string of profanity finally stemmed. "Pitchfork in hand." The band, equally profane in its seething metallic grind -- guitarist Blixa Bargeld shrieking into the mic moments earlier as the band approximated the howling depressurization of a plane in freefall -- parted like the water. Out of the omniscient prison spotlight stepped Cave to the lip of the stage, spindly chest stuck out to meet the chin of his bowed head, and raised an arm above his head, hand bent at the wrist. Jagger, Bowie, maybe something more Shakespearean, perhaps -- Macbeth, Othello? Whatever the pose, its theatrical dramatis
crystallized the London-based troupe's goth rock & roll histrionics. From the moment the thin dark duke sauntered onstage like lounge-loving Buster Poindexter and hooted "Hoa!" into the mic, Cave's thespian instincts and magnetism were on display. Seated at the piano, he opened with the quiet rebellion of "As I Sat Sadly by Her Side," which leads off last year's theologically grounded No More Shall We Part
. Like "Oh Lord," "God Is in the House," and Cave's "Hallelujah," also from the Bad Seeds' most recent disc, live, the song settled well into the band's richly melodramatic canon. In fact, the new material, which like the evening's caressing first encore "Into My Arms," from the sonic and spiritually bound precursor to No More Shall We Part
-- 1997's The Boatman's Call
-- was among the set's most convincing. With the last two LPs, Cave has passed into the third phase of his artistic development, from Birthday boy and angry young man to composer. Which is all well and good as long as he and his Bad Seeds summon hell's fury in older fan faves such as "Do You Love Me?" "Red Right Hand," and classics-to-be like the new "Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow." They did, all right -- in a manner recalling Mount Vesuvius. "The Mercy Seat," "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry," and the furious assault of a "very, very old Bad Seeds" slasher, "Saint Huck," offset crooned fare including "Henry Lee," "The Weeping Song," "No More Shall We Part," and "The Ship Song," which slid headlong into "Stagger Lee." When it was over, and the sly smiles and shocked gapes of veteran Cave-dwellers and first timers alike were brought back onto the light, the words of the high priest rang like a benediction. "Good night," smiled a weary, wrung-out Cave with a wave of the hand. "Good night, America." Good night, sweet prince ... of darkness.