Nick Cave Gives Fans Plenty to 'Dig' Into

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Nick Cave, the Australian punk turned literary death-rocker, is among the greatest frontmen in rock-and-roll. Hyperbole? Nope, check the math: You add the feral swagger of Iggy Pop to the cabaret poise of David Bowie, then factor in the utterly shameless mustache of -- eh, that guy from Gogol Bordello, maybe? What about that mustache?

Doubtless it's important: In his clean-shaven decades, Cave was writing tender piano ballads like "Love Letter" and "Into Your Arms," the only two breathers in his otherwise amphetamine-paced 18-song exorcism Sunday night at the 9:30 club. But the primary source document of the 'Stache Era is this year's "Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!," one of those rare albums that broadens a long-lived artist's cult while alienating none of the true believers. More important, "Dig!!!" justifies its exclamation points by rocking without pity -- or so you thought, until you heard the seven-piece incarnation of Cave's band, the Bad Seeds, up the ante on these songs for the stage, detonating them with sternum-rattling force.

Cave slunk onstage to the doomsday churn of "Night of the Lotus Eaters," chanting the track's foreboding refrain ("Get ready to shield yourself!") and discarding the verses entirely. A gaunt specter in gray pinstripes, he strapped on a guitar as the band slammed into the title track of "Dig!!!" and the show was off like a cannonball. Naked light bulbs framed the stage as if it were a dressing-room mirror, magnifying the theatricality of Cave's preening, pointing, hand-squeezing stage manner.

The capacity crowd welcomed vigorous takes of staples like "The Weeping Song" and "Deanna" with fond expectation, and "The Mercy Seat" was an apocalyptic showstopper, driven by the electric squall of Warren Ellis's violin.

"It ain't that great," Cave demurred when a fan shouted for him to remove his clothes. But we'll take 110 minutes of his soul over a flash of skin anytime.

-- Chris Klimek

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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