Nick Cave is the body electric.
It’s almost enough to see him standing there, on stage, willowy, wiry, and coiled. Nick gives off the impression of caged violence, like all the greatest rock stars, and a hidden current of power ebbs and flows across the crowd as he sweeps his gaze over us. Maybe he is looking at me, but he does not see me; there is a necessary separation between the man and the knot of fans who gather at the stage to paw and prod him. I stay in my seat, watching him interact with them seems better than being one of the reachers.
They latch on, and he holds them, occasionally, before returning to whatever quiet place he’s established inside himself, where he maintains his dignity with imperious, withering pathos.
Cave is fascinating in his own elegance, even before he speaks, let alone when he begins to sing or later on, when he begins to literally move across the crowd, over top of us like a long, blue flame. He wears a formal three-piece suit for every performance, as does every member of his formidable band, The Bad Seeds, who took the stage ahead of him last night at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles last night. Fanned out across the stage, their appearance only served to build anticipation for Nick, who changed the tenor of the air in the room when he appeared, visible in shades through the heady darkness of the room.
The hushed thrum of the crowd reminds me of the spirit-filled revivals that earmarked my youth, when believers would drop to the floor at the touch of a pastor’s burning hand. Yet, Cave is far less invested than these early false prophets. Patron saint for the wounded seems a more fitting title for him; there is a ferocious intimacy to a Nick Cave show that breeds and murmurs of grief, and the tenderness required to properly field it.
Later on, during his encore, he will literally walk on top of the crowd, singing and staring out, unseeing all the while, touching the audience members like a demented messiah who would piss on the cross if he came across it. Even then, there is no puncturing his decorum, despite the 1,600+ pairs of eyes on him. He is as casual as a man naked in a bath, and just as vulnerable. Cave’s latest record, Skeleton Tree, was as gloomy and devastating as the oeuvre he has built over the last four decades, but this record in particular is a piercing cultural document of the human grieving process.