Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I Wanna Tell You About a Show...

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Ryman and I am still reeling from the experience. I have been an admirer of Cave's since the mid-nineties when I was first introduced to his music. While I'm not as familiar with his more recent output (except for his exquisite work with Warren Ellis on the score for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) I continue to adore the stuff I listened to in college. There's a vivid brutality to many of his lyrics, which are oftentimes shot through with Old Testament imagery, but he is equally skilled at crafting achingly beautiful love songs. He has a deep, sonorous voice capable of crooning out a ballad or snarling through a raucous tale of debauchery and depravity. There's a feral, animalistic side to him but it is complimented but a side that is thoughtful, clever and deeply literate. There's something entirely timeless and otherworldly about the persona he projects. Sometimes sinister, sometimes gentle and almost always seductive.

I had high expectations going into Saturday's show even though I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I can honestly say that the intensity Cave brought to this concert was astonishing. The experience was overwhelming and cathartic and Cave is an incredible showman. He's built like a scarecrow and he is absolutely the sexiest beast I have ever seen. Strutting back and forth across the stage in a dark suit that accentuated his slim, long-limbed build (seriously, the man is all elbows and knees) he reminded me of the Fiddle Man in the short film Hannah and the Dog Ghost, a character that has stayed in my mind since my Montessori school days. There's something he taps into that's archetypal and universal, like something I've always been aware of peripherally but couldn't quite comprehend in the waking world. Something that both terrifies and beguiles.

Watching concert footage online does not provide an adequate approximation of what the live Nick Cave experience is like. There was this wild, witchy kind of energy in the auditorium for the entire show. And it was bolstered by the way that Cave engaged with his audience. I watched, awestruck, from the balcony as he stretched his long arms out into the crowd and beckoned them to come closer. At one point he plucked a woman out of her seat and pulled her to the edge of the stage so he could crouch down and caress her hair while he sang. It was sexually charged but also protective, like a father comforting his child or a pastor tending to a wayward member of his flock (he's great at stage banter, too, and one of the reasons his over-the-top persona works so well is because you know he doesn't always take himself seriously). Given the Ryman's history one could not ask for a better venue in which to see an artist like this. I have never been to a show where the performer, the setting and the crowd all seemed to be in perfect accord. Everything just came together beautifully. I feel honored that I was there to witness it.