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CONCERT REVIEW: Crystal Ballroom, Portland [21/04/2002] by Lottie Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 August 2006

It was a black day indeed when I learned of the cancellation of the North American tour for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, following the attacks on the World Trade Center. My husband and I had been privileged enough to have caught Nick the year before in Seattle, WA, an experience we held in regard only slightly below our Halloween wedding, but without the Bad Seeds, and seated about two miles away from the man as we were, we still hadn't felt that we'd had the entire Nick Cave experience. So when that show we had waited in white-knuckled anticipation for was cancelled, I dropped the phone and fell to the floor and cried. A month later I was back on the phone with Ticketmaster, shaking with happiness, buying tickets to the April show which seemed eons away at that time.

And now here it was. At first, I could not imagine a more perfect place for Nick to perform than at the Crystal Ballroom. With its comfortable, homey atmosphere, its beautiful paintings, its bouncing floor and smoking section and plethora of friendly bartenders, it seemed that this place had just been waiting for Nick to come along and add his charisma to the long list of talented artists that have graced its stage. Unfortunately, that would later turn out to be only half-true, but more on that in a bit.

We arrived at about six thirty, stopping in the restaurant below the Crystal Ballroom for some food and a couple beers, although both of us were far too nervous to eat anything. Around seven I grew anxious watching the five or six people who were already waiting in line outside quickly turn to ten and eleven people, and we paid our tab and went and took our places in line. Let me just say, the crowd at the Nick Cave show were the friendliest bunch of people I could have hoped for; we struck up conversations with folks in line left and right, people who'd traveled from Washington, and one couple from Utah of all places. When the doors finally opened a little after eight, we were thrilled until we saw the signs the employees had just affixed to the doors reading "No cameras, video or audio recorders allowed inside for this show." Having previously always been allowed to bring cameras to the Crystal Ballroom, we'd brought one along this time, and when they told my husband that he'd have to take it back to the car because "we aren't going to check ten thousand cameras", I was livid. Nowhere on our tickets did it warn us that we would not be allowed to bring cameras, and because of that little slip-up my husband and I were separated for the rest of the show.

As he went to take the camera back to the car, I practically ran to the stage and staked out my claim on several inches of the guard rail. I was not planning to move an inch for the rest of the show, and when my hubby returned from the car it was already so packed that he could not squeeze up to where I stood. Sadly, we waved to each other across a sea of heads, and he went back to hang out with our group of friends while I settled in for a very long wait amongst a crowd of strangers.

Fortunately I did not have to wait long; about an hour later, Khan and Kid Congo Powers took the stage, and my loneliness was completely forgotten. I don't know what I had expected from these two, but it was certainly not the hilarious, entertaining, lewd and unusual performance they gave us. Khan was described to me by my friend as a "one-man Devo", which comes pretty close. In his white shirt and pants with his flashy tie and short, conservative hair, he could have been a Mormon on his mission if he wasn't, you know, writhing against all us girls in the audience and screaming for us to take off our pants. At one point he crawled up to me and held the microphone in my face, trying to get me to sing with him, at which I could only burst into giggles and wrap my arms around his head. Kid Congo Powers was adorable; short and sexy with a grin that made him look about thirteen, he played slide guitar using the microphone as he and Khan sang songs about cheating on girlfriends and talking dirty. The audience actually cheered for more when they were done, something I have never seen before with any opening band, and they launched into a cover of the Cramps' "Goo Goo Muck", during which Kid Congo Powers climbed atop Khan's shoulders. The energy of these two was fabulous and catching, and got all of us psyched up for what we knew was coming next: the Nick.

And here He came. Dressed in a tailored black suit, with a sparkly dress shirt underneath and a white cotton shirt under that, Nick walked onto the stage with all the seriousness of a man about to give a sermon. He walked to the microphone at the front and center of the stage, approximately two feet from where I stood entranced; "Hello, Portland," he said, "I'm Nick Cave and these are the Bad Seeds." Yeah, no kidding! He then strolled to his piano and began to play "As I Sat Sadly By Her Side (thus losing for me my bet with some other concert goers that "15 Feet..." would be the opening song)", and the rest of the world instantly lost all meaning for me. The song was indescribably beautiful and sad, and began much slower and more melancholy than the album version, picking up throughout as he was joined by the rest of the band to bring the song to a pounding finish. Then he left the piano and walked to the front of the stage as we all recognized the beginning of "Do You Love Me?", and the crowd surged forward, shoving me happily against the rail.

Nick was positively glowing, there is no other way to describe it. He balanced one foot between the speakers at the front of the stage and got down close to us until his face was about two inches away from mine, and if I'd leaned forward I would have crashed blissfully into him. As it was, I just stood there with my mouth open, barely breathing, screaming along with Nick and the other thousands to the "Jingle, Jangle, Jingle, Jangle, JINGLE JANGLE" as red lights pulsed around the stage.

After that came "Oh My Lord", another great one that started out slow and grew in intensity to a shrieking finish, and he followed that up immediately with "Red Right Hand", during which we all predictably raised our right hands as he pointed to each and every one of us, making all of us feel that we were the ones Nick was singing directly to. He changed one line in this song to a hilarious new one, pointing to a fellow about three people over from me, saying "...You don't like that girl you came here with man, he'll find you a completely different one." The guy's girlfriend only laughed. During all of these songs, Nick danced and jumped and screamed inches from me, overwhelming me, intoxicating me (I had made sure to be completely sober during this show, not wanting to miss a single thing), becoming the Nick Cave I'd seen in videos and heard on earlier albums, the one I'd missed entirely at the Seattle show the year before. During "15 Feet of Pure White Snow" he commanded us to all raise our hands up to the sky, and we did, me grabbing his foot in the process (yes, I touched his foot!!!), and he leapt about so much he completely severed the microphone cord, having to run over and steal the microphone from Mick Harvey to finish the song. Luckily, he was immediately supplied with another mike after he finished the song.

I eventually lost track of the order of the songs, but not the songs themselves (I even scribbled them down on a grocery list in a bar after the show, not wanting to forget a single one):

"Papa Won't Leave You, Henry"; The good old fashioned ass-kicking version of the song, which is what I was praying for, as much as I liked the slow version he played on his solo tour. This was probably my favourite moment of the concert, as Nick got down in front of me and pointed into my face, locking eyes with me, singing "...The road is long, and the road is hard, and baby, it's very very unkind". I squealed at that. Nick Cave called me "baby"!

"Lime-Tree Arbour"; Absolutely beautiful. One of my most surreal moments of the show was looking over during this song to behold a six foot five, three hundred pound punk rocker with a shaved, tattooed head, closing his eyes and holding up his hands, singing along in rapture with this song. It takes all kinds to adore Nick Cave.

"The Weeping Song"; Fantastic, and one of the only moments that Blixa seemed to snap out of the strange, stunned state he seemed to be in most of the show. For those of you who have seen Nick with the Bad Seeds before, is Blixa normally like this? My friends' opinions were that he was plowed out of his mind or something. Nick and Blixa danced next to each other just like the video, it was brilliant.

"The Mercy Seat"; By far one of the most high energy moments of the show, the entire audience chanting the words along with Nick as he held up his EVIL "kill hand" and shrieked the condemned man's song.

"We Came Along This Road"; I never really enjoyed this song on the new album, but now that I've heard it live I can't get it out of my head. Many of the songs from the new album were like this; live, they had a raw energy completely missing from the album that gave me a whole new perspective and appreciation of them. A girl next to me completely dissolved into tears during this song and didn't stop for about an hour. I wanted to smack her and tell her to just enjoy herself for chrissakes.

"God Is In the House"; A hilarious song that got all the same laughs as it did when I heard it for the first time at the Seattle show. As Nick got to the part where he instructed us to "all join hands and very quietly shout..." we beat him to the punch with a thousand screams and "HALLELUJAH"'s. A perfect moment.

"And No More Shall We Part"; My husband and I very nearly chose this song for our wedding, and so it has always meant a lot to me. This is probably my favourite song from the new album, and I really enjoy the live version with Warren Ellis plucking his violin strings between verses.

"Hallelujah"; So much more enjoyable without the McGarricle sisters, I'm sorry to say. Nick sang the last part about "The tears are welling in my eyes again...", and it was much more powerful with his voice, and the Bad Seeds singing "Hallelujah" behind him. The blue light during this song gave it a very spooky feeling that I dug.

"Into My Arms"; The first song of the first encore. Heartbreaking, simple, beautiful. I knew my friend Sarah was somewhere in the crowd weeping; this is her favourite song.

"St. Huck"; Savage. Nick was twenty years old again, screaming and howling like the Birthday Party days, and the gold light that surrounded him and emphasized the impressive billows of smoke, both from the cigarettes that he smoked constantly and from those of the audience, gave the whole song a very dream-like quality. At one point Nick was dancing next to his piano, the band was rocking and shaking the whole Ballroom, and he turned and was silhouetted against the light and looked for all the world like he had become young again, like I was seeing through time. I have no other words for it. If I could draw, which I cannot, I would draw this.

"Henry Lee"; I'm always impressed that this song doesn't lose anything when it is only sung by Nick. This was the second encore, during which he announced that they were going to do some Murder Ballads, and the crowd went mad. We were all "la la la la la"-ing with the song; it must have sounded amazing from up in the balcony.

"Stagger Lee"; The final song of the show, and each and every member of the band poured themselves into it to make it spectacular. The entire city of Portland was probably trembling, I know we were. Blixa screamed his scary scream perfectly, practically swallowing the microphone as he did, and Nick screamed right along with him, sounding like feedback over all the guitars and Warren's unbelievable violin playing. And of course he included the "lost" verse wherein Stagger Lee meets up with the devil and puts four holes in his motherfucking head, which thrilled the audience and brought a little smile to those of us who had heard this before. I couldn't believe this was the final song, I had been waiting for "The Curse of Milhaven" through the whole concert and had been positive he would include it in the final encore, but "Stagger Lee" brought the house down and was as good of encore as I could have possibly hoped for.

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, what was possibly the most amazing experience of my life. I had his sweat on me, people! The air was full of smoke and dialogue I knew by heart, you could say, and I now feel like I have experienced the ultimate thrill that his Nick Cave with the Bad Seeds, complete and mind-bending. I still haven't fully recovered, which is why I'm rambling about the whole show as I'm sure you've noticed, but if you're like me you won't mind hearing every little detail of the experience.

The only thing that disappointed me was the unforgivable negligence of the Crystal Ballroom to announce beforehand that cameras would not be allowed. I intend to write a letter of complaint to them about this very fact, I mean, they really dropped the ball on this one. My husband had waited twelve long years for this show and ended up spending it about eight rows back, after being forced to wait in line all over again after he was ordered to return the camera to the car because the security staff just couldn't be bothered with confiscating the cameras they had banned about five minutes before. Bad move, folks. Hopefully next time Nick comes around he'll come to Eugene and the Hult Center, where at least they are explicit about what will and won't be allowed in the show before you arrive.


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