Get ready to shield yourself,” Nick Cave warned the aud of nearly 10,000 at his Hollywood Bowl debut. It was good advice. Headlining an indie-rock triple bill (filled out by Spiritualized and Cat Power) that mixed guitars and God so frequently, it turned the Bowl into the First Church of Leo Fender, Cave’s riveting 70-minute perf was a savage, noise-drenched, apocalyptic sermon.
“Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!” (the title track from his most recent Anti- album) paints a decidedly ugly picture of what happened after Jesus brought him back from the dead; the brutal but wickedly funny “We Call Upon the Author to Explain” calls the Creator to account for man’s frailties, and modern trials, including infectious disease and global meltdown; and “Tupelo” presents the birth of Elvis as an epochal moment, with storms, floods and howls of “the first born is dead!”
Even romance took on a religious taint: In “Deanna,” the singer is less interested in her love and her money than in her soul, and “Into My Arms,” a moodily beautiful ballad in the Leonard Cohen/John Cale mode, may be the first love song to begin with the admission “I don’t believe in an interventionist God” (he does, on the other hand, believe in love).
It was a revived, energetic revelation. On his last few records, Cave nearly disappeared into a plush, Laura Ashley-decorated gloom. But starting with last year’s Grinderman side project, Cave rediscovered the attack and dissonance that made both his work with the Birthday Party and his early solo albums so bracing.
Dressed in a snug black suit, his hair combed back to reveal his widow’s peak, and sporting a porn-star mustache, Cave hasn’t changed his onstage persona much in the five years since the Bad Seeds’ last Los Angeles show, but time has added a kind of middle-aged corruption that makes for a richer, deeper, more complex performance. At times, his cynical bellowing was reminiscent of Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood.”
The six-piece Bad Seeds backed him with a graceful ferocity. Jim Sclavunos and Thomas Wydler on drums and percussion kept the rhythms heavy but nimble, navigating the samba-inflections of “Red Right Hand” and the martial pounding of “Papa Won’t Leave You Henry”; Warren Ellis and Mick Harvey made guitars, electric mandolin and violin howl like the damned. When Stagger shoots down a bartender in the set’s final song, Cave’s retelling of the blues legend “Stagger Lee,” the band exploded into a free-jazz freakout that sounded like a musical speaking in tongues.
There’s probably not a band today that does the spacey guitar rave-up better than Spiritualized, but their 40-minute set, including selections from their new “Songs in A & E” (Universal), is a story retold too often. The best moment was the most surprising, when a gospelly “I Can’t Help Falling in Love” was tagged onto the psychedelia of “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space.”
Cat Power paid her respects to the rock gods on her second album of covers, “Jukebox” (Matador). She managed to hold things together for her half-hour onstage, but her set was also impressive because of the way she and her band reworked the material, including a slowed-down version of John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son,” moving the song from the draft board to the shooting gallery; a whispered “Dark End of the Street”; and “Song to Bobby,” her tribute to Dylan. The band, including Judah Bauer (formally of the John Spencer Blues Explosion) underplayed admirably; with Chan Marshall’s sly, slurred vocals, they sounded like a mellower Janis or a messier Dusty Springfield.