“We’ll be playing the new album in order,” smirked Nick Cave early on in his sold-out, prohibitively expensive ($140 per ticket), Web-streamed concert at the Fonda Theater Thursday evening. “It’ll be like listening to the record, except I’ll be saying stupid shit in between the tracks.” In actuality, Cave and his reconfigured Bad Seeds would deliver a gorgeously-wrought performance of new album “Push the Sky Away” with only a few sly quips from the terminally clever frontman. Cave and his band were simply stunning from start to finish; pulsing jetsreams of energy and tension into music that is cavernous, guttural and inescapably intimate.
Devoting the first hour of the concert to “Push the Sky Away,” Cave and the Bad Seeds — as well as a string quintet, two female vocalists and the Silverlake Conservatory of Music’s Children’s Choir — showcased a selection of songs that, “Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus” notwithstanding, is as good as anything the group has produced in the past 15 years. Nimble, experimental and subtly progressive, “Push the Sky Away” was delivered with overwhelming care and sensitivity by each of the musicians. “Wide Lovely Eyes” found Cave adopting his crooner-poet baritone with cutting, sensual lyrics that set the movements of a woman against the undulating currents of the sea.
It is rare for a performer to truly deliver a lyric with clarity and precision — instantly inscribing a word’s meaning upon the audience — but Cave continuously cut his words through the minimal, droning arrangements. Glowering down into the audience with legs crooked and eyes ablaze, Cave preached the vivid, waterlogged lyrics of “Water’s Edge” with an almost beatific sense of duty to the narrative. Each Bad Seed musician seemed to show an equal reverence for the lyrics, often playing just enough to provide force and musical heft without obscuring the songs’ rich textual component.
Warren Ellis’ deft instrumental shifts, from flute to violin and electric guitar, added a carefully measured yet subtly unpredictable ingredient to the group’s sonic repertoire. The children’s choir contributed some ghostly backing vocals to the deliciously bizarre “Jubilee Street” and throughout the evening, Cave would note that the bedtime of his young collaborators seemed to be rapidly approaching.
“We Real Cool” built upon an undulating sub bass loop as Cave spat out a crystalline libretto with immediacy and naked force. During “Higgs Boson Blues” Cave stared at Ellis who, with the subtlest of glances, touchingly signaled that Cave had entered his vocal at the wrong segment of the song. Cave turned around and counted himself back into the music, losing nothing by way of momentum, and unintentionally revealed the delicate, intuitive relationship that he and Ellis share.
After concluding “Push the Sky Away,” the group launched into the lovely and raucous goth-punk of “From Her to Eternity” from Cave’s 1984 debut solo outing of the same title. Placing such a venerable, energy-fueled track alongside the new album showcased how versatile an artist Cave has become. He can croon like a poet one minute and divebomb across the stage like a young Iggy Pop the next. As the night wore on, more fan favorites emerged, including a simmering reading of “Red Right Hand” and a cacophonous, violently crescendoed version of “Mercy Seat.”
The group’s encore consisted of a solitary rendition of Cave’s blacksploitation noir “Stagger Lee”; a traditional song turned into one of the most frightening, devastatingly violent epics this side of Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop.” Cave shrieked, cursed and flailed across the stage possessed by the song, and the audience swayed rapturously — confused, scared and exhilarated by it all.
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(Fonda Theater; 1,300 capacity; $140 top)
Presented by Goldenvoice and KCRW. Reviewed on Feb. 21, 2013.