Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
The Abattoir Blues Tour
ick Cave’s upcoming Grinderman album proves that he can still play at bloodthirsty and psychotic, but this collection of seventeen tracks from the Bad Seeds 2004 tour in support of Abattoir Blues proves that Cave is aging, if not gracefully, at least with an occasional modicum of poise.
Poise does not equal pussy, and anyone who subjected themselves to the Cave-penned film The Proposition will have few worries that Cave is losing his edge. Nonetheless, some of the performances here seem downright mellow. “Deanna” has been transmuted from thundering, frantic inarticulacy to a sort of ragged rhythm-and-blues; where before Cave was after your (immortal) soul, these days he sounds like he might settle for a little soul (music). “Red Right Hand” increasingly has the heft of an obligatory, crowd-pleasing staple, delivered self-consciously and increasingly dependent on the mighty crashes of the coda. And am I alone in hearing self-mockery when Cave sings, on the frothing and delicious “You Turn Me On,” “I put one hand on your round ripe heart / And the other down your panties”?
The quality of the recording, captured on tour in Europe, is solidly unspectacular, a document of a band on the road. Acoustic guitars buzz, and the backing singers sit sometimes uncomfortably high in the mix, as they do on the Abbatoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus album itself. Cave himself sometimes wavers in and out of hearing as he skids around in his roles as lounge singer, soapbox preacher, and raving loony. It is a complaint fairly specific to Cave records that at first glance there may not be enough loony on this one, liberally sprinkled as it is with some of Cave’s better ballads from recent albums. But that’s before you get to the DVD sets.
A track like “God Is in the House” is best appreciated live. Ticklish and mawkish on record—he is being ironic, right?—in performance Cave can squeeze bucketfuls of clear-eyed conviction from its sweet Christmasy chords and kitten-ridden lyrics. “Easy Money” is one of his finest vocal performances here. Why? Because he’s sitting down, his expansive charisma focused in a single plane as he sings a seduction to that “Everlasting stuff, baby… Pray for the wife, pray for the kids, house, wife…”
Other songs, especially the older ones, don’t quite live up to their studio incarnations. Cave dedicates “The Weeping Song” to ex-Seed Blixa Bargeld, whose departure leaves Cave alone to stage the father-son dialogue, which he does with gusto, but without the benefit of Bargeld’s dry-as-a-tomb vocals. The current Bad Seeds play with unity, charisma, and the requisite sense of doom, but only manage to upstage Cave once or twice, most notably on the snarling “Get Ready for Love,” on which the backing singers do their best Furies impression, and the Seeds brew up their trademark hyper-caffeinated, dark-roasted maelstrom.
Double live discs are traditionally the sign of a band coasting down the slope from an artistic peak. I don’t mean to tar Cave with the past-his-prime brush—just wait ‘til you hear Grinderman—but you might wonder why, exactly, Cave felt it necessary to put this out now, until you take a peek at the two DVDs. The second of the two is a mixed bag of promo videos and such. The fifteen-minute video for “Babe I’m On Fire” is pretty extraordinary, but there is nothing here quite so strange as the footage of Cave and the Seeds filming the workplace-unsafe video for “Bring It On.” Fifteen minutes of utter strangeness featuring the scantily-clad “Ragga Girls” dancing to double speed Cave. Has to be seen to be believed.
Though many of the same songs appear there is no overlap here between the filmed performances and the audio discs. Particularly in contrast to the sedate, occasionally dreary earlier songs presented on the second of the two discs, the Abattoir Blues performances finds Cave magnificently energized, plundering an unwonted songwriting boom.
The Bad Seeds have now experienced a complete turnover, with the exception of guitarist Mick Harvey, while Cave remains evergreen, like a spookily dapper Mick Jagger, with cigarettes. The sheer numbers of the Bad Seeds—they’re a Band with a capital B, even if they’ve never broken free of Cave’s substantial gravity—mean there’s always enough of them around to spring a surprise, including two fulltime drummers, and the newest technology: four backing singers courtesy of the London Gospel Choir.
And just in case you worried he was going soft, the Bad Seeds bark and blare their way through their reimagined “Stagger Lee,” which must surely, finally, be pastiche. Cave punctuates the song with “motherfucking” like a two-bit gangsta rapper, leaning into each expletive with a relish seldom seen this side of the new Eminem album: “I’m a bad motherfucker don’t you know / And I’ll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get to one fat boy’s asshole.” Cave’s traditional murder ballad closes with the killing of the devil himself, which is some kind of metaphor for the triumph of this latter period Cave.