The most mythical moment of Nick Cave's set last night at the Ogden Theatre came at the end when the band performed "Stagger Lee," a re-casting of the Mississippi John Hurt classic "The Ballad of Stagger Lee." With lurid lighting and theatrical flourishes, Nick Cave commanded the audience with a playfully ominous persona that was so disarmingly charming it was impossible not to be dazzled. Cave engaged those in the front in a direct way, taking hands in his own and singing, even screaming, directly at someone immediately before him and somehow making it seem like he was doing the same to anyone closer to the back of the theater.
Coming on stage at the beginning of the set in utter silence, Cave and the Bad Seeds got right down to business with "We No Who U R," before which Cave invited the photographers to come up on stage, and a few did. The band this time out included Barry Adamson on drums and keyboards, Warren Ellis on violin and various odds and ends of guitar, Jim Sclavunos on the main drum kit, Conway Savage on the main keyboards, Martyn P. Casey on bass, Sharon Van Etten and Shilpa Ray on backing vocals and Ed Kuepper on guitars. They made simple melodies with complex arrangements seem orchestral and vividly dynamic the whole performance.
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Much of the material from the set came from Push The Sky Away, the band's latest album, but early on, the group treated us to an old and unexpected favorite with the title track of From Her to Eternity. Later, the outfit rendered "Red Right Hand" into a very dark lounge song and offered up a bracing and affecting version of "The Mercy Seat." "The Weeping Song," meanwhile, seemed oddly celebratory in a way that enhanced the meaning of the song.
After a brief time off stage following "Stagger Lee," the band came back on and performed "Tupelo" and finished the show with the moody and darkly atmospheric title track to Push the Sky Away. Instead of going out with a raging bang, as they could have, the guys went evoked an emotionally heavy moment with an emotionally stirring performance.
Earlier in the evening, Sharon Van Etten and Zeke Hutchins got things started. Van Etten's beautiful, interestingly textured and well-composed songs spoke for themselves. Van Etten was a compelling character in her own right, engaging the crowd with jokes, including one before a newer song in which she said that most of us had figured out she was not Nick Cave even though they look a lot alike. "I think it's the eyebrows," she quipped.
Van Etten's smooth yet raw vibrato and subtle shifts in guitar strumming alongside Hutchins's skill at providing nuance and texture in his percussion gave the stripped down music a sense of space that is not easy to convey with a two-piece, taking away one layer and adding one doesn't give one much leeway in that regard.
Personal Bias: I've been a fan of Nick Cave's music since seeing Wings of Desire in the early '90s, and I've been following Sharon Van Etten since Tramp came out.
Random Detail: Ran into boyhollow and former Le Divorce singer/guitarist Kitty Vincent at the show.
By the Way: This was easily one of the best shows I've seen in a long time. Nick Cave is one of the most gifted frontmen in rock.
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