If you heard a distant rumble or saw a flash of light on the horizon Sunday night around 9 p.m., that was Nick Cave, like a bat out of hell, smiting Seattle, to a crisp as per his satanic majesty’s request. And it was good. Very good. How could it not be? Everyone knows Heaven has better weather but Hell has all the best bands. Cave looked and sounded in peak form (good hair, great suit, whipped himself about the stage like an electrocuted Elvis), and his voice contained multitudes. Deep, dulcet and strong like bull. Part angel-headed hipster, part Pentecostal preacherman. All pomade and sweat and Old Testament gravitas.
So too, the Bad Seeds, who these days paint within the lines and with much more subtle strokes thanks in no small part to the addition of the Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis a decade back. With his enchanted fiddle on “God Is In The House,” magic flute on “We No Who U R” and his chiming, incandescent, Velvetsoid guitar thrum on “Jubilee Street” Ellis made grown men cry in their souls—this grown man, anyway. Prior to Ellis, the Bad Seeds seemed to come with only two settings: Mellow and Maelstrom. Sunday night, they mapped out all the emotional peaks and valleys in between with nuance and precision.
After opening the show with a handful of long, slow-burning potboilers from the new Push The Sky Away, Cave and Co. released the bats and let rip with the classics (“The Mercy Seat,” “Deanna,” “Red Right Hand,” “The Weeping Song”) as well as some deep-catalog nuggets for the devout (“From Her To Eternity,” “Your Funeral, My Trial” and a hellfire-and-brimstone “Tupelo” for an encore). But the real revelation last night was “Higgs Boson Blues,” a song that, sequenced eighth out of nine songs, gets lost on the new album, which suffers somewhat from an overabundance of meditative midtempo-ness.
On record, the song is largely notable for the metaphysical cleverness of its title, but live “Higgs Boson Blues” was a long, sweaty noir-ish hallucination that somehow combined Lucifer, Robert Johnson, the Large Hadron Collider, speaking in tongues, Hannah Montana crying with the dolphins, the assassination of Martin Luther King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, and the God Particle into a dream narrative whose surreal profundities, as they are wont to do, defy literal explanation. But it all ends satisfyingly with Miley Cyrus floating face down in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake like William Holden at the beginning of Sunset Boulevard. Let us pray.