Nick Ain't Dead Yet

On The Street, August, 1987

Review by Colin Hubert
Collected by Katherine B.

Nick Cave laughed. A magician friend told me that after Screaming Jay Hawkins had squeezed about a gallon of water from a lace handkerchief he had just daubed his big evil eyes with. While Hawkins played, Cave was in full view of anyone in the crowd who looked up. He laughed in public, but not on stage.


Mr. Cave must be supremely confident in his own ability as a performer to risk being upstaged by such a showman as Screamin' Jay Hawkins. The huge black man, in the sort of glaring white suit and tails that say overstatement, have the black wearing crowd the sort of show that Sydney never sees.


Nick Cave no longer makes me feel so fantastic. I got sick of his last album too quickly for my confidence in him. The doubts were ugly to me, I tried to argue them away. The English music press had begun to print bad reviews about Nick Cave, but I convinced myself that this was of course, the way of these journals - profess anarchy, exalt a leader and then knock the leader down. I told myself that friends who said the same thing were following suit. Tonight was the test.

Nick Cave is an abnormally gifted performer. He appears a distinct variation from the human form. His voice has developed from the flat nasal wail of early Boys Next Door to the richer, crooning wail of today. But he still does not try too hard. High notes to Nick don't need to be reached, just imitated. His movements and manner on stage still express a thorough disdain for audience and task, but where he once reveled in this contempt, indulged himself in a bloated superiority complex that only made him more attractive, it seems now he would rather not be there. HE is quite clearly sick of the act... HE too seems to be bored of songs from The Firstborn Is Dead and if he really hates Mutiny In Heaven as much as it sounded like he did, why play it? The only time when Nick Cave didn't seem bored was in the encore when he sang a cover of Knockin' on Heaven's Door. Rumours say Cave is considering making a whole album of covers, but I hope they are false. His rendition of this pathetic anti-classic was so tame, so smooth, that the crusty old hippies who still play it in Devonshire St. Tunnel would have liked it, and I mean that as a harsh insult. A friend said it was funny.

The night was almost saved by the wonderful performances of The Bad Seeds. They each have their own stage presence but of course do not upstage Cave, and they know how to make very effective noise. Barry Adamson's bass sometimes shook the whole room and the Die Haut drummer (Thomas Wydler), was outstanding in that he played his drums rather that just hitting them - the effect was much more potent. It was worth being at the show for the sheer spectacle of this collection of almost human oddities.

Perhaps that funny little ditty Black Crow King was Nick Cave's own mocking attempt to recognize his myth and his pathos. Maybe bathos is a better word that hasn't occurred to him. He could come right back and make great gut-wrenching aggressive rock music again, but I don't think his heart is in it anymore.


The King of Nothing At All?

On The Street, August, 1987

Review by Rob Miller
Collected by Katherine B.

Just another white boy trying to sound like Muddy Waters? However much you may despise Nick Cave's arrogance, his ugliness, or in Ignatius Jones case, envy the rapturous critical attention the man attracts, there is no denying that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have evolved an aesthetic of expressive violence and terrifying intensity too potent to be ignored.

God knows, it's never been easy to 'like' what Cave does in the usual sense of 'enjoying' a band. Shrink-wrapped in a hideous red satin shirt and tight black trousers, the pouting skeletal figure portraying a rock'n'roll Paradise Lost, Cave is an affront, a provocative, vaguely obscene figure redeemed only by the traces of boyish innocence still evident in the pale, drawn features.

Dwelling in pain and misery, wallowing in heartbreak and loss, spiritual consumptive Nicholas Cave sings the blues in ways few white boys from Melbourne have before him. Of course, the audience is not allowed the luxury of easy consumability and the brutal Dorian Gray like honesty of the Bad Seeds can indeed make you radically reassess ideas about what makes good or exciting rock'n'roll. But all I know when the band launches into their cover of Avalanche ('He does not ask for your company') is that twenty-two months of waiting is over.

"Here is direct expression, Ladies and Gentlemen... and if you don't understand it, it is because you are too decadent to receive it. You are not satisfied unless form is so divorced from content that you can comprehend the one without bothering to read the other."

Samuel Beckett.

Although Cave has maintained in the past that rock'n'roll was a dying form, it is ironic that his appropriation and perversion from places like Hamlet, Huckleberry Finn, Dante's Inferno, and more recently Jack Henry Abott's In the Belly of the Beast (in Knockin' on the Joe) have done more to revive it, to rekindle hopes that rock'n'roll could be a true creative form - as opposed to glib, one-dimensional consumer pap - than any other rock'n'roll artist in years. Specters that haunted The Birthday Party, the Iggy Pops and the Jim Morrisons, have given way to the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, rolling back up the dirty river to the birthplace of the blues (the horror! the horror!). Spinning long the Bad Seeds merry-go-round these rock'n'roll greats, now tumescent and bloated parodies are made to live, breathe and walk again under Cave's menacing and utterly compelling delivery. Caricatured spaghetti westerns, where all that is real is the suffering of the hero, reduced to a scorched cinder, laughably pathetic, clinging to what little dignity they can snatch. Saint Huck! Saint Nick!

Nick Cave has always sought to have as drastic an effect on his audience as possible, being prepared to go to almost any lengths. With the Bad Seeds, the optimum would seem to be a base level of grinding, searing, bluesy chaos, offset by Cave's brilliantly orchestrated delivery. Despite his best attempts to obscure the fact, Mr. Cave is a fine singer, but since the dying days of The Birthday Party, he has understood the value of contrast, of making the low points of the performance as low as the high points are high. In Wanted Man that closes Friday's show, Cave deliberately subverts the song, singing the lines where he wants to, murdering the song not just for its humour but its pathos, literally just to choke more life out of it. But at any performance by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds you have to take the good with the bad and everything counts. In a set including everything off The Firstborn is Dead the renditions of Knockin' on the Joe and Blind Lemon Jefferson are devastating, deliriously intoxicating and very moving; Barry Adamson's swooning bass is fit to make you start crying into your beer. Let's not forget that the Bad Seeds are a wonderful vehicle for Cave's spleenish invectives, the unknown Thomas Wydler marionettish, almost spastic drum-slashing being a performance in itself. Clad in black leather, tall, thin, teuton Blixa Bargeld resembles a victim of repeated electric shocks, sliding, bottlenecked, up and down his guitar and, of course, the ever faithful Mick Harvey is back on guitar again adding piano to certain songs. The Bad Seeds 'Selinas' shows are generally marred by too loud a mix, with the guitar mixed so high that the lyrics are obscured to the point where access is by familiarity only.

But that's not the worst of it. Almost willfully courting misunderstanding it seems like Cave deliberately embraces the vituperative negative energy spluttering the first five rows-seeking it out, and in the process seemingly doing his best to obscure his own worth and value as performer/artist. Where does the myth and and the man begin? Set up for dignity, his worship turns to parody...

Meanwhile, the skinny legs are pushed back against the foldback speaker, the pixie toes of the pointy black shoes inclined heavenwards, the head of abandoned sweat drenched black hair convulsing into he microphone. Oh, you can run, you can hide, but you are yet to be tried! The set contains a couple of surprises, notably a cover of a Loved Ones classic and Bob Dylan's Knockin' on Heaven's Door - the latter was wonderful in the context of Sam Peckinphas' Pat Garret and Billy the Kid but in Nick Cave's hands, it takes on frightening new dimensions - the ultimate anthem of the junkie outlaw?

Although Cave eschews the whole idea of anything being didactic or political in his work, the sickeningly brutal intensity and honesty of a Bad Seeds performance can (if you care to see it that way) actually 'deconstruct' the idea of a rock'n'roll band, revealing by contrast, the emotional impoverishment and dishonesty of what mostly passes for pop or rock'n'roll. Still, anyone coming to see Cave and the Bad Seeds for the first time should just forget everything they've heard about how good the Bad Seeds are. Abandon all hopes, all expectations ye who pass by here! You'll find all extremes here, the good with the bad, the inspirational with the turgid. Even at his worst moments - and there are lots of them - Cave is a compelling performer. At his best he is without peer.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright by Rob Miller, 1987. Wholesale publication requires the written consent of the author. Contact site administrator for details.


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