Thursday, March 28th, 2013
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Sharon Van Etten at Canadian Musicfest
Frank YangI had to think for quite a while about including this show under my Canadian Musicfest coverage. Although the festival would like you believe that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ visit on Saturday night was as a festival headliner, everyone knew that this show had little to nothing to do with Canadian Musicfest and everything to do with the tour in support of their latest effort, Push The Sky Away; I don’t even know if any of the VIP wristbands promised access actually got in. However, as I’ve exempted shows from fest coverage in the past on account of their not being explicitly listed as performers, it seems only fair to have the inverse apply. Yes, these are the things I spend energy thinking about. Pity me. In any case, it was going to be a full house for The Bad Seeds’ first Toronto show since October 2008, and with this being the band’s first time at Massey Hall – arguably the most natural setting for them – it was bound to be a memorable one.
It’s been a joy watching Sharon Van Etten’s career trajectory over the past few years, from lightly-attended opening slots in Spring 2010 through graduating to headlining status a year later and then, last year on the back of Tramp, filling rooms like Lee’s Palace and The Phoenix. So while on paper, moving back to opener status might seem like a step back, when it’s at Massey Hall and opening for Nick Cave, it’s most certainly not. Performing as a guitar and drums two-piece, her compact five-song set – including a new one that was intended to be happy but still sounded mournful – was a fine introduction to her beautifully confessional songwriting for those unfamiliar with her and for those already won over, an affirmation that her gorgeous voice belonged in cavernous halls like this. Someday. Soon.
Photos: Sharon Van Etten @ Massey Hall – March 23, 2013
MP3: Sharon Van Etten – “Give Out”
MP3: Sharon Van Etten – “Kevin’s”
MP3: Sharon Van Etten – “Serpents”
MP3: Sharon Van Etten – “Love More”
MP3: Sharon Van Etten – “Don’t Do It”
MP3: Sharon Van Etten – “I Couldn’t Save You”
MP3: Sharon Van Etten – “For You”
MP3: Sharon Van Etten – “Consolation Prize”
Video: Sharon Van Etten – “Magic Chords”
Video: Sharon Van Etten – “Leonard”
Video: Sharon Van Etten – “For You”
Some have bemoaned the slow, stately pace of Push The Sky Away, wondering where the spit and fire that defined Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! and the two Grinderman records had gone. For my part, I think that that run of records – and you can probably include 2004’s Abbatoir Blues/Lyre Of Orpheus in there – as well as the departure of Mick Harvey following Lazarus and Cave’s work both writing and scoring films, pretty much guaranteed that Cave would get introspective next. And accepting that, it’s a gorgeous and immersive record, putting the focus on the content of Cave’s words – of which there are many – rather than the intensity of their delivery, and the Bad Seeds get to show off their atmospheric chops. Those fearing he’s gone soft would do well to remember that the band went ballad-heavy for a few records at the turn of the century before returning to the rock. Even if this current phase lasts beyond Sky, it almost certainly won’t be the last.
This show was also of significant contrast to the last Kool Haus performance; whereas that one was as lean and mean a rock machine as a seven-piece outfit could be, this one figured to be a more sophisticated affair, bolstered by a string section featuring members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Owen Pallett as well as the 19-piece Rose Avenue Junior Public School choir and backing singers Shilpa Ray and Sharon Van Etten. All were put to good use from the get-go as they opened with a smouldering five-song suite from Sky; slow, lush, and gorgeous but with the massive crescendo punctuating “Jubilee Street” offering a taste of what was to come. And indeed, when “Higgs Boson Blues” – arguably the centrepiece of Sky – faded out, Cave let out a snarling, “I wanna tell you ’bout a girl!” and the back catalog was open for business.
The menacing Nick Cave persona, heretofore kept in check with the slower material and informal chatter with the audience, was let off the leash and set to prowling the edge of the stage. A good portion of the floor seats had already rushed the front of the stage before the show began, and though security tried to stem the flow, Cave suggested they head to the bar and get a drink instead; after all, what’s a preacher without his congregation? The Bad Seeds played their part, as well, dressed like gentlemen assassins (the leopoard-skin lining of keyboardist Conway Savage’s suit jacket got a compliment from Cave) and Warren Ellis in the role of the loose cannon, whether abusing his violin or dancing/conducting the string section manically on “From Her To Eternity”. The children’s choir looked a touch unsettled by the intensity of the older material and were probably relieved to be sent off an hour into the show.
The remainder of the set was mostly obvious selections from throughout Cave’s repertoire, the sublime execution making up for the predictability of the selections, although the complete omission of Lazarus still rankles. The strings were used to beautiful effect on “Love Letter”, “The Mercy Seat” as harrowing an experience anyone could reasonably expect at a concert, and main set closer “Stagger Lee” an exercise in elegant mayhem. The choir returned to bolster an elegiac “Push The Sky Away” and a roaring “Tupelo” closed the night out. Having been at it with The Bad Seeds for almost 30 years, his reputation for incredible live shows is more than well-established, and yet he’s still able to send people into the night dazzled and dazed and not quite believing the show could be as good as it was. But it was. Oh, it was.
Photos: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds @ Massey Hall – March 23, 2013
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Jubilee Street”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “We No Who U R”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Midnight Man”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “More News From Nowhere”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Get Ready For Love”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Breathless”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Nature Boy”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Bring It On”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Love Letter”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “As I Sat Sadly By Her Side”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “(Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds with PJ Harvey – “Henry Lee”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds with Kylie Minogue – “Where The Wild Roses Grow”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Red Right Hand”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Loverman”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Do You Love Me”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds with Shane McGowan – “What A Wonderful World”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “I Had A Dream, Joe”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Straight To You”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “The Weeping Song”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “The Ship Song”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Deanna”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “The Mercy Seat”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “The Singer”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Tupelo”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “In The Ghetto”
And some album streams to take us into the long weekend – Pitchfork has got an advance stream of The Black Angels’ new record Indigo Meadow, out April 2, and Philadelphia Weekly an interview with frontman Alex Maas. They’ll be at The Danforth Music Hall on April 13.
Stream: The Black Angels / Indigo Meadow
Stream: The Strokes – “Fast Animals”