Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ nearly-packed show at Barclays Center on Friday, October 26th was electric. It was deafeningly loud and Nick was on fire, as per usual. It was more of an experience than anything else: I gritted my teeth and applauded until my hands tingled. Tall and thin with jet black hair and dressed in a fitted black suit, resembling a debonair villain of the Old West, Cave looks like an icon. Barclays is huge: It seats 19,000, and except for the rafter seats, the venue looked mostly full. These kinds of arena shows are new for Nick Cave in North America; at age 61, his fame and his audience keep growing. There are no gimmicky stage antics, just pure heart and emotion, running the gambit from sweetness to terror. The band played mostly hard rock, but Nick also sang some piano ballads like “The Ship Song” and “Into my Arms.” The emotion of the latter was breathtaking; Nick’s striking blue eyes tearing up as he sang. I was engaged on every level, even though I was seated some distance from the stage: There were two huge screens with exquisite black and white clarity so that even those sitting in the rafter seats were connected on an intimate level.
“From Her to Eternity” was somewhat of an exorcism, complete with enough of Nick’s grunting and moaning to raise the dead if a Ouija board was in place. Bright lights shone over the crowd, illuminating thousands of bodies: Nick asked for the lighting master to do it again and then remarked “that’s fucking terrifying.” The Bad Seeds also played classic favorites like “Do you Love Me?” and “Loverman” as well as beloved tracks from the 2013 release Push the Sky Away, such as “Higgs Boson Blues” and “Jubilee Street.”
Audience interaction is a huge part of Nick’s shows; he grabs and squeezes hands, leans on shoulders and screams “Hey sister! Hey brother!” in his fans’ faces. They played nearly two and a half hours – including three songs as an encore – because a Bad Seeds show would not be complete without 1980s classic, “The Mercy Seat.” Each band member was fantastic, and at the top of their form: Jim Sclavunos on percussion, George Vjestica on guitar, Warren Ellis on flute, organ and violin, Martyn P. Casey on bass, and Toby Dammit (aka Larry Mullins) on drums.
Red Right Hand – always a fan favorite – only continues to get “darker and darker” according to Cave. To hear “Shoot Me Down” live is rare, especially with Warren Ellis on the flute; it was an exquisite, poetic masterpiece. Near the end of the dazzling performance dozens of excited audience members took the stage with Nick for the violent fan favorite “Stagger Lee,” as he screamed, “Are you ready? Are you ready?” After about ten minutes of the titular Stagger Lee’s antics are recounted, he kills the devil and the audience goes absolutely wild, gyrating and yelling “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!” along with Nick, resulting in a frenzied crescendo.
It is a gift to witness these performances; I have seen Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds play live at least eight times over the past five years, with the tour for Push the Sky Away and Skeleton Tree, and the shows just keep getting better; they are more visceral and more alive. The performances are personal and always a true artistic experience, never something phoned in or half dead; I want to thank them for what they give to their fans and for the purity of it. The love Nick has for his audience is palpable and we love him right back, ten-fold.
The set list is as follows: