The Hollywood Palladium may be one of L.A.’s most venerated and historic venues, but it’s been a Waterloo for many rock bands, more barn than ballroom. The Palladium’s awful sound might be considered a kind of revenge for the big bands and crooners who ruled the room until they were shunted aside by rock ‘n’ roll. When you add the club’s intrusive security, it’s no wonder that many concertgoers count it among their least favorite destinations.
But Wednesday night, Nick Cave became one of the few performers to thrive in the cavernous club. His atmospheric songs are as chilly and fogged in as a moor, so the room’s extra layer of echo didn’t hurt.
Cage and the Bad Seed’s latest album, “Nocturama” (Must/Anti), is one his most intimate, continuing his development as a more gothic Leonard Cohen; live, the music is given a new spaciousness. The songs build slowly, gaining intensity until exploding into solos by Warren Ellis on violin or James Johnson’s guitar. New tunes such as the aching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the darkly romantic “Bring It On” hew closely to the recorded versions, but the band really shines on older material, which is rearranged and expanded.
“Tupelo,” his version of the birth of Elvis Presley reimagined as biblical apocalypse, turns dramatically swampier, the band howling and churning; Cave’s execution ballad “The Mercy Seat” is a revelation. The song gains intensity as the narrator moves closer and closer to the electric chair; the music collapses in on itself, turning from an outstretched hand to a fist, until the singer’s defiance is palpable. Only “Deanna,” one of Cave’s most conventional pop songs, failed; the busy chord changes and clattering bassline were not immune to the building’s limitations, and they were swallowed by the Palladium’s unforgiving acoustics.
Cave and the Bad Seeds play another acoustically tricky venue, New York’s Roseland Ballroom, June 24-25.