Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

April 29, 2002


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.