Concert Reviews

Live Review: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium (3/16)

on March 18, 2013, 3:54pm

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March 16th was Nick Cave day in Nashville, Tennessee. Ahead of his much anticipated set at the historic Ryman Auditorium that night, he appeared at Grimey’s New & Preloved Music to treat some lucky fans to a signing session. His spirits were high as he took pictures and signed albums with his adoring fans. The excitement in that room was palpable – and it transferred over to the Ryman that night, where the seats for the sold out show were filled earlier than normal and the lines for merchandise reached lengths I’d never seen before. In a city chock-full of stars, this crowd was eager to see a legend.

After a lovely opening set from former local songwriter Sharon Van Etten, The Bad Seeds kicked off the show with some cuts from their new CoS Top Star-earning album Push the Sky Away. “Jubilee Street” had all the cadence and feeling of a set-closing barnburner, complete with a standing ovation and rapturous applause, yet it was just the second song of the set. That’s the problem when you have a baker’s dozen worth of songs that would be perfect set closers – though that’s a good problem to have. In fact, about half of the night’s songs were greeted with standing ovations. During the show, I talked to many nearby fans who said they were ready and willing to travel wherever it took them to see this tour, which makes sense given that Nashvillians are somewhat used to tours like this passing the city over. So, the simple fact that Nick Cave was there, in person, playing songs at the Ryman was enough to make the crowd extra appreciative – that they were such good performances was just the cherry on top.

The hallowed halls of the Ryman proved to be the perfect place for Cave’s brooding ballads, but he wasn’t satisfied with the audience sitting by idly. By the third song – “Higgs Boson Blues” – he was literally pulling people out of their seats one by one to the side of the stage. The rest of the crowd got the message, and as soon as they heard the menacing opening notes of “From Her to Eternity”, they rushed to the front, ignoring the pews and turning the Mother Church of Country Music into a dirty rock club.

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Nick Cave was satisfied. He works the front of the crowd better than just about anyone alive. From pulling a girl on stage to singing inches away from the many faces in the front row, he is as engaging as he is entertaining. He has a complete arsenal of moves at his disposal, and he used them all often – from the leg kicks to the pelvic thrusts. No place on the stage was off-limits.

Equal parts charming and terrifying, Cave elicited laughs during both “God Is in the House” and “Stagger Lee”, only to reduce his voice to a primal scream for “From Her to Eternity”, and then mesmerize with the near-silent “Push the Sky Away”. Ever the consummate pro, Cave stopped a minute into set closer “Stagger Lee” because something was wonky, though he played it off with ease and just counted them back down to start the song over. It was an endearing slip up – and a sign that Cave wants to give the audience his best on every song and won’t tolerate anything being less than perfect. While the show was short on Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! and Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, Cave tore through plenty of crowd favorites, including highlights “Red Right Hand”, “The Mercy Seat”, and “The Weeping Song”.

In the end, the show was a dazzling display of musicianship and showmanship, packaged together with a great setlist and a timeless venue. Most, if not all, of the remaining shows on their current U.S. tour are sold out, but fans should find any way to attend. This is a veteran at the top of his game.

Photography by Miles Price.

Setlist:
We No Who U R
Jubilee Street
Wide Lovely Eyes
Higgs Boson Blues
From Her To Eternity
Red Right Hand
Stranger Than Kindness
Jack the Ripper
Deanna
Your Funeral My Trial
God is in the House
The Weeping Song
The Mercy Seat
Stagger Lee
Encore:
Tupelo
Push the Sky Away

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