It took Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds all of two songs to whip the audience into a mighty frenzy at the Warfield Theater on Monday night [during the first of a pair of sold-out shows at the venue]. Not totally surprising, but all the more impressive when considering that Cave and company pulled it off by playing new material, a pair of tracks from their latest album, Push the Sky Away.
Starting with the uneasy rumble of “We Real Cool,” Cave began the night by plunging right out to the front of the crowd to render the line-up-at-3pm fans in the first row slackjawed and bedazzled with the song's slow drama, before steadily building "Jubilee Street" to a rowdy climax. It was a moment worthy of the encore, even as they were only ten minutes into a two-hour performance.
It’s hard to imagine many other bands accomplishing this some 30 years into their career with anything other than their greatest hits. But of course, Cave and the Bad Seeds aren’t your average…well...anything, and they showcased their singularity in fantastic form at the Warfield with this first of two sold out shows.
Playing close to 20 songs across a dozen albums, Cave had a lot to offer during Monday night’s performance. There were beautifully quiet moments, such as "Into My Arms" and "God is in the House," as well as exquisite obscurities (if obscurities even exist with Cave's fans) like "Sad Waters." Still better yet was the poignancy and poise of "The Weeping Song," with Cave calling up opener Mark Lanegan to join on vocals.
Yet for as good as these offerings were, Cave is at his best when he's at his meanest. Stalking in and out of the shadows on the Warfield stage with the menacing authority of a fire and brimstone preacher, he delivered furious renderings of songs like "Tupelo," "Red Right Hand," and "The Mercy Seat." And while these may be typical tracks for Cave's setlists, the small room combined with the crowd's investment seemed to give them added weight, an intimacy and intensity that went well beyond Cave's showing at the Bill Graham Auditorium earlier last year. This was most notable on "Stagger Lee", the slowly unfolding massacre off of Murder Ballads, that built with greater and greater malevolence as Cave bullied the song forward, eliciting shrieks and hollers from the audience.
The Warfield retained a dense capacity even as the show reached the two-hour mark and the band moved through a stellar encore that included "Deanna" and "Jack the Ripper," before concluding with the "The Lyre of Orpheus." As the house lights came up the speakers let loose a Tom Waits track amid the din of the departing crowd. It was a good (and perhaps, the only) comparison to be made. Cave, like Waits, is so unique in his artistry that it not only defies every well-tread aspect of the known music universe, but seems to only be getting better with age. And, as Cave's fans would have attested walking out of the Warfield, that all makes perfect sense.