The Cult of Cave

At some point during a Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds show, you are struck by the atmosphere in the room – hands clutch at the air; the soft sibilance of words chant from the corners of the room. At some point in the last thirty minutes, your concert hall has transformed from music venue to shrine, a chapel dedicated to the man that paces and skulks the stage like the maniac prophets he sings into existence.

It was once you would go to a Nick Cave show to be assaulted by the music, pushing into the pit to grasp at the air as he jabbed his finger accusingly at the swarm before him, his preacher’s voice booming through the theater. But something has changed in Cave –as the singer noted himself in a recent interview– and his approach to the crowd has shifted.

The once-mad augur now risks the clutching hands and fanatical fans as he wades into the crowd, supported by the audience as he cradles them to his chest, crooning and howling by turn. The shift is unexpected by long time followers, and still comes with apprehension – for a man who once attacked reporters, struck the audience with drumsticks and famously tore down Billy Corgan on MTV, the calm reassurance that “You can touch me. Yeah, go ahead. Definitely,” is unexpected to say the least. But judging by the reception of fans in Boston, this new laying of hands is not at all unwelcome.

And it’s not just Cave’s accessibility that has changed – his performance on Saturday night was infused with a giddiness reminiscent of Vegas-era Elvis. “Oh fuck, I’ve forgotten the words,” was sang in the midst of ‘Magneto’, a song off Skeleton Tree, the Bad Seeds latest. Later, the satire to suburban living, ‘God is in the House,’ from 2001’s And No More Shall We Part, was interrupted as the usually stoic singer giggled through his lines: “The tipsy, the reeling and the drop down pissed/We got no time for that stuff here”.

But it’s not all a kinder, gentler Cave. The Seeds still swing hard in their hits ‘From Her to Eternity,’ and the always-violent ‘Jack the Ripper.’ Cave still spits vitriol into the audience, if not at them, still screams, and stumbles, and collapses at the front of the stage. While his recent life events may have changed parts of his soul, he is still the Nick Cave that grew up rolling around in the gutter of Australia, screaming into a microphone. He is still an evangelist for doom, still a crazed missionary sent to bring us the word of his own personal gods.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds are now on tour for their latest album, Skeleton Tree. They appeared at the Boch Center Wang Theatre on Saturday Night. Full photo gallery here.

Read the full article on WGBH.

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    Andrea Wolanin