Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds returned once again to New York City to bring their collective dark, aural pastiche to the gathered flock of the already converted as well as the neophytes who were seemingly there just because of where this “ceremony” was set to go down. The Prospect Park Bandshell hosts myriad acts in their summer series. This particular act, I suspect, was a bit aberrant to what the series coordinators typically program. It was curious to arrive at the park and see family types lolling about the amphitheater on their blankies like it was the “ladybug” picnic. I wondered if the uninitiated or unfamiliar would be brought to their feet or perhaps even driven from the park when Cave foisted upon them his sinister paeans of obsessive love and murder.
The sun was reaching its nadir but hadn’t set yet when Nick Cave and crew seized the stage. Even though sol was still visible, darkness prevailed, forthwith. Commencing the evening’s performance was the sonorously throbbing We Real Cool. The fervent followers, many of whom queued up hours before performance to ensure a prime spot from which to revel, instantly lit up as soon as their prophet took the stage. Most of the thousands, who fell in ranks behind the up-fronts, were equally as rapt and dazzled by the 90-plus minute performance. It was easily apparent that the majority of the fist-timers would become converts.
Now in his mid-50s, Nick Cave is better and more active on stage than ever. Like a dapper blur prowling from one end of the dais to the other in an effort to literally reach out to his acolytes like some debauched preacher ministering to his flock—very fire and brimstone to say the least. And the Seeds behind him wound up and punched and pulled back in waves with the power of a group who’ve worked together for years. The set featured several songs from the band’s critically acclaimed Push The Sky Away, highlighted by the visceral and swelling Higgs Boson Blues and the desperately passionate Jubilee Street, the chorus, “I’m vibrating, I’m transforming, look at me now!” was one of the most stirring moments of the whole set, raising the crowd to a level they never really descended from.
Worthy of mention was violinist/multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis’ solo on the sanguine Mermaids. It was reminiscent of Robert Fripp, but on a smaller scaled guitar with two less strings, truly transcendental. His flailing and often guitar-style strumming on the violin was a rare site to see, whipping it around in the air like he was fending off demons or angels were attacking him. Other high spots from the evening’s selections were the timeless Her to Eternity, which has only grown more volcanic over the decades, as have Tupelo and the always epic Mercy Seat.
By the time the Bad Seeds closed with their take on the classic murder ballad Stagger Lee, the sun had set and the flock were in full thrall. Push The Sky Away, closed the set, but Cave and company gave their slavering congregates a few more to go out on. Closing the evening’s ritual with Deana summed up Cave’s modus operandi most fittingly: He ain’t down here for your money, he ain’t down here for your love. HE’S DOWN HERE FOR YOUR SOUL! Have at it, Nick. Come back soon.
Nicole Atkins got the audience quaking with a strong set of her trio’s melodramatic thrush. She should’ve been the second act because a cleaned-up Devendra Banhart followed with a sleepy set of sit-down electric guitar plucking and light quirk-crooning that at least worked well for background while waiting in the long port-o-john lines. Bringing back at least some of that freak in the freak-folk equation might be a good idea.
Photos by Adela Loconte; words by Paul Bearer.