Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds celebrated the release of their Push the Sky Away album with a revivalist's fervor last night at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. With an expanded ensemble of string players and a children's choir from the Silverlake Conservatory, Cave and the band performed the album in full, going deep with songs both bleak and literary, brooding and sexually charged.
The band's 90-minute performance was streamed live on the Rockfeedback YouTube channel and began with the spooked melody of "We No Who U R," leading into the hushed romance of "Wide Lovely Eyes," a song written for his wife. It was to be his only show in North America with the added players and choir, though Cave paid special attention to his youngest guests.
Song Premiere: Nick Cave and the Bad Sees, 'We No Who U R'
"We have some kids up here singing. Look at that," Cave said with a warm growl early in the set. "Aren't they cute? Hi, kids."
Their performance of "Jubilee Street" was even more haunted than on the album, telling a modern cautionary tale of urban squalor and regret as searing as Lou Reed's Berlin. It began quietly, with multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis plucking a dire riff on electric guitar, until Cave leapt into the air with a high kick and the band fully ignited. The choir soared along with them, and Cave shook his arms and hips like a conductor barely contained.
Dressed in vampire black, Cave's delivery matched the album's often smoky, understated textures, though things did kick into a heavier Goth explosiveness at times as he wandered to the edge of the stage, hovering over the front rows. Push the Sky Away, the Bad Seeds' 15th album, is more slow-burn than the bluesy grind of Cave's other band, Grinderman.
"We're going to play it in order, so it will be like playing a record, except there will be lots of stupid shit said between songs," Cave joked to the crowd.
For "Water's Edge," the music swelled and shimmered as Cave's baritone welled up with taunts and snarls for "all you young lovers." He paced the stage to some fittingly ominous strings and piano, waving his arms over the crowd and warning darkly, "It's the thrill of love/ Ah, but the chill of love is coming on."
The choir added some hopeful harmony vocals to the shadowy sounds of "Mermaids," and there was a whisper of flute within the gloom of "We Real Cool." Cave soon turned to his young singers and asked "Are you ready for this one, kids?" and the band began "Higgs Boson Blues," with Ellis chopping out a slow rock riff as Cave sang wearily, "You're the best girl I've ever had/ Can't remember anything at all."
The title song that closes the new album glided to a narcotic beat, as the kids harmonized the words: "Keep on pushing, keep on pushing . . ."
"That's that," Cave said after all of the album's songs were completed, then turned to the choir. "You all right for a few more, kids?"
What followed was material that stretched back across many years, and largely stepped away from the more introspective sound of the new album, beginning with "From Her to Eternity." The string section sawed frantically on their instruments under the wild, energetic direction of Ellis as Cave barked and whispered in a rage.
Fans shouted out song titles, but Cave wasn't taking requests. "We're not going to play that," he said. "You can yell it all night."
Before dismissing the chorus, Cave and the Bad Seeds called on them for "O Children," with acoustic guitar and slow emotional lines on violin. Later, "Jack the Ripper" was all nervous beats and aggressive guitars, and Cave bent over a piano to bang out an ominous melody. The lights went down for "Love Letter," as Cave sang of lost love and regret with light accompaniment from the band. Up in the balcony, a man wept.
The night's one-song encore was Cave's searing reinvention of "Stagger Lee," which had rhymes as tough and threatening as any rapper's. It bounced hard to a gunshot beat, with a heartwarming tale of extreme violence and rage to send fans wandering back onto the streets of Hollywood.