On October 25 Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds performed at The Anthem to a full audience. The band, whose first iteration was formed in 1983 and now has a completely different composition save for Cave, is a post-punk group that has released 16 studio albums. They are a gritty alternative rock band best. The band is known for the frequently haunting and melancholy themes that define their music. The group’s latest album, Skeleton Tree (2016), was a bit different from the others, quieter, tortured, but eventually peaceful as well. It’s closer to an ambient rhythm, even as it is alternative rock, compared to the more overtly dramatic sounds of the band.
The ambiance at The Anthem was relaxed and cheerful as the audience stood milling about while Cigarettes After Sex played their opening set. People ranging from their early twenties to late sixties were gathered in small groups, an eclectic mix blending together. There were young men in their business suits who clearly came straight from work standing next to young women in expensive shoes and designer jackets dressed to go out, alongside middle-aged couples wearing t-shirts and floor-length dresses, all swaying to the slow rock rhythm. Some had long gray beards, silver hair, and black band t-shirts. Some had hair dyed platinum blond or jet black, with eccentric cuts, and black leather jackets with painted pentagrams and the words “killing joke” on the back.
After Cigarettes After Sex exited the stage, a giant projection of Nick Cave’s face went up, and the audience gathered, whistling, applauding, and waiting. As sound checks started taking place and the crowd awaited the star, they grew more animated, taking pictures of the stage, talking louder, and eventually craning to try to get the first glimpse of the frontman of the Bad Seeds. Finally, the lights went off and cheering immediately ensued. An eerie melody began in the dark, and as the lights turned on, Nick Cave walked out with his hand in the air, singing the lyrics to “Jesus Alone” from his most recent album Skeleton Tree (2016). ““With my voice/I am calling you” he sang.
Cave has been doing this for decades, and he managed to make The Anthem, which is a fairly large concert venue, feel like an intimate gathering among like-minded people. It didn’t matter whether or not audience members were similar, Cave was giving the audience an experience, and they knew and felt it. He was teaching his audience, calling to it, which was apparent in lyrics like “I ought to practice what I preach,” from “Jubilee Street,” and echoed in the demeanor of the crowd that was drinking in the performance and hanging onto his every word.
Cave jumped and leapt across the stage, using his hands and vaguely off-beat movement to accentuate his singing. He wasn’t suave or cool, but passion was injected into his every gesture, and the audience was given the sense they were watching a genius at work. His voice was at times gritty and raspy, like gravel on the mic, and showed incredible range and power at others, and always emotive. His performance didn’t incite a frenzy, especially since the audience was composed of actual adults, but it certainly drew excitement.
“Magneto” started like a ballad on the piano, before the bass and Cave joined in singing the lyrics. This performance demonstrated how well he knew his audience. There was a bizarre energy to it, but the crowd expected nothing less from the odd and amazing Nick Cave. He demanded the audience’s participation by getting members to call back, and even clap back at times. He belted out in ways that would make a normal person lose their voice, full of passion and feeling, and he brought the crowd up or down with a hand gesture, like a magician or a sorcerer, singing “Do you love me?/Do you love me?/Like I love you.”
People in the sitting sections were standing, and most of the audience was nodding along and shouting back lyrics. Mostly, you had to know the lyrics to understand them, but despite this, the themes of the stories Cave told from the perspective of his songs’ characters were apparent in the music and his expression. At one point Cave answered a question from the audience, “‘Play something you can dance to?’ I think you’ve come to the wrong show,” he said. During “From Her to Eternity,” when he ran back to play the piano, the Bad Seeds seemed to let loose, the music blaring, drums beating—everyone losing their minds. As Cave sang “There’s a devil waiting outside your door,” the eclectic sound of the violin, maracas, and bells created a distinctive sound that Cave has made famous.
They also played three much slower tempo songs that were a more typical rock back-to-back, at times by himself on the piano. The crowd was less enthused, but raptly listening as the musician showed his versatility. The die-hard fans knew the lyrics and sang along, but most absorbed it quietly, drinking in the quieter Nick Cave singing “God is in the House.” He played haunting and beautiful melodies, half-diving into the crowd, touching fans hands and singing to them directly, making eye contact and speaking to them.
At one point, Cave invited a girl onstage, danced a slow number with her, and left her there while he performed the rest of the song. She swayed, seeming like she would faint at such proximity to her hero. She knew all the lyrics and didn’t take her eyes off him for a second. Cave acted like he was used to her reaction, being benevolent to it but not acting on it.
Cave closed the show with 30 people on stage behind him as he belted out the words to “Stagger Lee.” He was dripping with sweat at that point, having soaked through his black suit and his cloth by wiping his forehead. He whispered the lyrics to the avid crowd, as they knew the show was coming to an end, “In comes the devil he’s got a pitchfork in his hands.”