Nick Cave brought his Bad Seeds and scads of morosity to the Music Center at Strathmore on Wednesday. Fans were out of their seats from first note to last, either in rapture or because the shock-friendly performer gave ’em the willies and they were too afraid to sit down.
The 55-year-old Australian favors dark wardrobes and darker song motifs, and he worked the stage like Marilyn Manson imitating Mick Jagger, or vice versa, with Manson’s macabre look and Jagger’s herky-jerky rock steps. He opened with the ominous “We No Who U R,” which mulls displacing wildlife by burning down a forest with glee, and followed with “Jubilee Street,” the tale of a sad sack who travels with “a fetus on a leash” after his favorite prostitute has been put out of work, told as the Seeds’ backing accompaniment swelled from ambient to all-out noise fest.
The opulent music hall wasn’t conceived to host shows like Cave’s. Security is left to the house ushers, a far more mature and far less interventionist bunch than typical rock-concert bouncers. So when a not-insignificant portion of the largely Goth-looking audience rushed the stage early in the show, nobody asked the crashers to return to their seats.
Cave had fun with the rebellious fans squatting on the more valuable real estate right in front of him. He grabbed the hand of one and put it to his chest while yelling, “Can you feel my heartbeat?” on “Higgs Boson Blues,” another song from the band’s new album, “Push the Sky Away,” that has Frank Zappa’s whimsy, with its name checks of Robert Johnson and Miley Cyrus and her former alter-ego, Hannah Montana.
He thrust his pelvis repeatedly and quite naughtily toward the faces of those up front while screaming about some really rough sexual encounters in “Stagger Lee,” a Cave oldie that involves a “Pulp Fiction”-size heap of vulgarity and violence that culminates with the nogoodnik showing Satan who’s badder by putting a load of bullets in Beelzebub’s brain. Bad Seed multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, a longtime Cave associate and a guy who looks like a Civil War re-creator, went all “Devil Went Down to Georgia” during a monstrous fiddle run when things got ugliest, at song’s end. “Tupelo” had Cave singing in monster tones while telling a poor rural family’s tale of woe; that story, which contains several references to Tupelo, Miss.-born Elvis Presley, features an ending depressing enough for a Steinbeck novel.
Not everything was nasty. Cave also makes wonderful wimp rock. He sat at a piano and did some romantic noodling during grandiosities “Into My Arms” and “Love Letter.” (Representative overwrought lyric: “I press my lips against her name / Two hundred words / We live in hope / The sky hangs heavy with rain.”) The tunes, which had Cave crooning like a young David Bowie, were sappy enough to fool blushing brides into including either or both on reception set lists.
The thought of Cave soundtracking a wedding, however, is scarier than anything he sings.
McKenna is a freelance writer.