Nick Cave being pensive, thinking about the first show in Milwaukee since a group bill for the touring Lollapalooza in 1994. Or maybe just drinking and smoking. Either way.
When the show was announced, way back in last year, I balked at the ticket prices and the good seats apparently went fast. So I resigned myself to maybe skipping an artist that I really quite like; recognizing, of course, that my favorite album of his is Murder Ballads, and if he played that stuff without slaughtering people on stage like a goth-music mashup of a Penn & Teller show with a Gallagherian need for plastic sheeting in the front rows, I was going to feel that they weren’t being true to the source material.
But when I saw some email blasts telling me tickets were still available in recent weeks, I looked and was a bit surprised to see they had opened up some really good seats. Since I have had some clients being more forthcoming with payments, I snagged some great seats.
It was, as I may have mentioned, the first time I’ve been in the Milwaukee Theater since it was remodeled from it’s old days as the Milwaukee Auditorium. I had previously seen the Pretenders/ Simple Minds and the Clash there. Memorably, for that second one (which coincided with an appearance from Frank Sinatra) the adjacent parking structure had a sign board which read “Welcome Sinatra Clash Fans” like it was some kind of bizarro double bill.
We missed most of the opening band, Warpaint, and from what we heard, we missed out. I hope to catch them on their next swing through this crappy lil town.
But gosh, what do I have to say about Nick Cave? As a performer, he came up through the punk and goth environments, taking more than a bit of inspiration from Mr. Iggy Pop. As a songwriter, he is dark and literate, hitting me in some sweet spots. Murder Ballads, was once quantified by a reviewer as having more than 200 deaths over the course of 14 songs.
And, of course, Red Right Hand.
He opened with some quieter songs, but before too long the intensity built to incredible levels. Do I need to mention his band? Well I will. Warren Ellis played almost every stringed instrument available, and he made them sing and scream. There were two utility infielders who played keyboards, vibes, alternative percussion and a drummer who hit the hard times when he needed to.
Cave had a couple of risers that let him move out into the crowd. I was kind of intrigued to see that the crowd did not maul him, or grab at his shirt or microphone. At one point, when he was out doing a lyric thing on one of these risers, a dude to his right was doing a phone video; and Cave very casually put out his arm and pushed the guy’s video down and out. It was remarkably well behaved.
During the performance of Push The Sky Away (title track of the latest release, and what convinced me that I had not paid adequate attention to it) Cave wandered out into the crowd, at least as far as his mic cord allowed, and I found myself wondering if ACG could have popped for some cordless mics on the whole shebang.
I have mentioned the dude who runs ACG previously; I had done load ins/outs for him on campus back in those college days, and helped him set up a home theater system back when they were much trickier to set up than they are now. And walking into the venue, I recognized him walking the other direction. I was inclined to say hi, even though I knew he would not (or refuse to) recognize me, but seeing his Phil Spectoresque current look, was freaked out more than I thought. Holey hell, Peter, you looked fucking shitty.
Overall, Cave played for well over 2 hours, and as with any artist of that depth of catalog, played unexpected songs. The version of Red Right Hand was early and sublime; From Her To Eternity was all screaming catharsis. Stagger Lee, from Murder Ballads was terrifying.
I confess I was disappointed that the encore did not include Death Is Not The End, but I recognize that it would have been weaker without the traded vocals on the recorded version. Could I cope? Yes.
At the end of the day, I feel like it was worth every penny, and putting the Nick Cave notch on my belt was awesome. Loud and dark and cathartic and still somehow emotionally rewarding. Lovely indeed.
And it should be mentioned that I stole the piccys from Friend of Zombie Schaefer, who spent more time working his phone camera than I did.