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CONCERT REVIEW: Beacon Theatre, New York [03/05/2002] by Kelefa Sanneh (NY Times) Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 August 2006

Abject and Nihilistic but Still Enthusiastic

Is Nick Cave a caricature yet? In the years since his brutal postpunk band, the Birthday Party, split up in 1983, he has transformed himself into a gloomy balladeer, chronicling a world of abject lovers and heartless strangers. At the Beacon Theatre on Friday night, he was so starkly lighted that when you looked at his face, all you could see were shadows.

Luckily Mr. Cave is an enthusiastic showman, and he strode across the stage like a preacher, or perhaps a salesman, sometimes gesturing at people in the audience to emphasize a point. He brought along his backing band, the Bad Seeds, and together they gnashed their way through 16 songs.

"No More Shall We Part" (Reprise), Mr. Cave's most recent album, was released last year, and it documents a dexterous songwriter doing battle with his own outsize persona. One low point is a ballad called "As I Sat Sadly by Her Side," which presents a long-winded dialogue about morality and nihilism; it sounds like a Nick Cave parody. Accompanying himself on keyboard, he sang somberly, "God does not care for your benevolence any more than he cares for the lack of it in others."

More often than not, though, the songwriter triumphed over his persona, crafting mysterious allegories enlivened by flashes of wit.

"Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow," a picturesque story about being buried alive, built to a furious conclusion. And "God Is in the House" reported on a creepy little town that has banished all fear and doubt. "We've bred all our kittens white/ So that you can see them in the night," he whimpered.

The music was too slow to be rock 'n' roll and too mean to be anything else. The Bad Seeds achieved a nasty grandeur, lurching from chord to chord. On "Oh My Lord," the percussionist, Jim Sclavunos, accented the chorus with a kick drum that shook the whole room. Blixa Bargeld, who has been playing with Mr. Cave since the Birthday Party, skulked near the side of the stage, committing occasional acts of musical violence: one quiet passage was interrupted by Mr. Bargeld's right hand scrabbling up the neck of his guitar.

A few years ago Mr. Cave released an album called "Murder Ballads," and the title acknowledges the inexorability of his songs, which plod along until they reach a foregone conclusion.

After two encores, he ended the concert with his take on the folk hero Stagger Lee, from "Murder Ballads." Not surprisingly, his version sucks out the joy and pumps up the violence, and by the time he finished, he was screaming bloody murder.


***Special thanks to MsHeather for sending this review


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