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CONCERT REVIEW: Park West, Chicago [22/03/2001] by Tony Bonyata Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 August 2006

On his latest seven-city U.S. tour, rock-enigma Nick Cave is giving a brief glimpse into his soon-to-be-released solo album, No More Shall We Part, recorded with longtime backing band The Bad Seeds. His raw and riveting performance at the Park West last Thursday evening, was filled with love sonnets and murder ballads from past and present, all cloaked in the shroud of Jesus standing at the Delta crossroads.

The Seedless Cave, rail-thin with a sharp black suit and black razor shag, casually entered the room, sat down behind a stage-hogging grand piano, where he stayed for the rest of the evening, and proceeded to pound the white out of the ivories on the bare-boned blues stomp "West Country Girl." Strangely enough, he was then joined, not by The Bad Seeds, but rather The Dirty Three - a stripped-down avant-garde little rock ensemble featuring the talents of drummer Jim White, bassist Susan Stenger and the incomparable Warren Ellis on violin and accordion.

This tight eclectic three-piece helped Cave peel back the skin and cut through the fat of his eternally dark and brooding repertoire to expose the throbbing nerve and skeletal structure of each number. On older songs, such as "Henry Lee," an old traditional American folk tune that he originally performed with PJ Harvey on his 1996 album Murder Ballads, and "People Ain't No Good," the simplicity of his low, earthy vocals and resounding piano filled every nook and cranny in the club's couchy, comfy confines.

On "Stagger Lee," another traditional roots song from the same album, he drastically reworked this already profane slice of American folklore into a brutal, naked work of art that mirrored director's Jim Jarmusch's stark, surreal vision of the old west from his film "Dead Man". And despite the lurid, obscene lyrical profile that Cave painted of 'old Stag,' it was Ellis' malicious violin solo at the song's end that showed the true evil that lie within the myth.

On "Mercy Seat," a song about a condemned man facing the electric chair that Johnny Cash recently covered on his latest album American III: Solitary Man, Cave, with thundering piano, turned in a leaner, more human version that was closer in spirit to the country legend's take than to his own original. It was rather fitting, however, since no one in the realm of rock comes closer in subject and spirit to Cash's own bleak tales of God, love and murder.

While his latest album is a grand, sweeping view of the dark corners of love, Cave chose to perform only three numbers from it. "Love Letter," proved to be one of his most tender and touching sonnets, while he gained a collective chuckle as he snarled in denial, "Homos roaming the streets at night. Queer bashers with tirejacks. Lesbian counter-attacks. That stuff is for the big cities," on "God Is In the House," a number about a conservative small town with their blinders on.

Relaxed and at-home, Cave lit smoke after smoke, receiving lights from an attentive front row, and conversed with his polite crowd of well-read hipsters, closet-goths and other assorted outsiders. The understated stage setting and simple washes of color only helped emphasize the intimacy of the show.

On his early rendition of "Wild World," however, a number from his apocalyptic early '80s punk band The Birthday Party, Cave and his dirty trio stripped back the covers from the crowd and shoved a disturbing symphony of off-key melodramatics into their faces. This proved to be the strong point of the evening. And while they never hit this musical plateau again, save for the ending of "Stagger Lee," Nick Cave and company nonetheless gave their audience everything they paid for... and then some.

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