Nick Cave delivers one of the best Austin City Limits performances of all time

Nick Cave and the hands of fans at ACL Live SCOTT NEWTON/COURTESY OF KLRU
Nick Cave and the hands of fans at ACL Live SCOTT NEWTON/COURTESY OF KLRU
Nick Cave and the hands of fans at ACL Live SCOTT NEWTON/COURTESY OF KLRU

If you had bet me 20 years ago that not only would Australian post-punk icon Nicholas Edward “Nick” Cave still be around in 2014 but that he would be making music that was more interesting — and delivering performances just as energetic —  as he was in 1994, that he would be a more compelling presence at 56 than he was at 36,  I would have taken that bet, enthusiastically and for a lot of money.

I would have lost that bet. I would have lost huge. I would have gone home wearing a barrel.

Sunday night, Cave and the current, six-man incarnation of the Bad Seeds delivered one of the most powerful Austin City Limits performances anyone at a jammed ACL Live had ever seen.

Careening around the stage like a man a quarter of his age, grabbing outstretched hands from worshipful folks on the floor, cajoling the people sitting down up top, St. Nick and cohorts delivered a monster set.

Per usual, there was a little bit of God (“I believe in God/I believe in mermaids too/ I believe in 72 virgins on a chain/why not”) and a lot of the devil (” Well here comes Lucifer/ With his canon law….He got the real killer groove/ Robert Johnson and the devil man/ Don’t know who’s gonna rip off who”).

The band’s most recent album, last year’s “Push the Sky Away,” plays with atmospheric, almost ambient sound-beds and smaller textures rather than sharply defined melody. After being worked over in live settings for a year-plus, those songs have become heavier and denser and all the better for it. The band walked out to a ominous, bassy sound loop that transformed into the “Push” song (and Wikipedia shout-out) “We Real Cool.”

Leaping started around the tgime the band hit the Elvis-worshipping chestnut “Tupelo” and the fan-favorite “Red Right Hand.”

Cave noted that “Mermaids” might not make the ACL cut due to a rather blatant use of the word “snatch,” played a lovely version, then launched into “From Her to Eternity,” one of the very first Bad Seeds songs ever written and still one of the all-time great looks at the advantages of wanting versus having.

Things calmed down for the ballads “Love Letter” and the almost Randy Newman-esque “God is in the House” (“We have a pretty little square/ We have a woman for a mayor/ Our policy is firm but fair/Now that God is in the house”).

Again, like the rest of “Push,”t he meandering weirdness of “Higgs Boson Blues” has benefited the most from live expansion — the jokes just land better when the music is heavier. “Hannah Montana does the African Savannah,” the post-punk Tom Jones crooned to giggles from the assembled. “Miley Cyrus floats in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake/ And you’re the best girl I’ve ever had.” And yet it works.

As for the crowd, it is best summed up by a pal’s Facebook comment: “I did not spend 5-12 minutes snaking out of my sweaty plus size Spanx and then slingshot them at Nick Cave. I did consider it.”

Which is to say there were hundreds of middle-aged women and men losing their ever-loving minds down front, touching the hem of his garment and wondering just how ridiculous they are going to look on camera. (Shout out to any lady who wore a black velvet dress to the event — it was about 98 degrees outside, that is hardcore).

With a one-two punch of fan-favorite jams “The Mercy Seat,” about a man facing the electric chair, and Cave’s treatment of “Stagger Lee,” followed by the set-closing “Push the Sky Away,” Cave and the Seeds destroyed any lingering notion that ACL tapings have to be civilized and staid.

This was vibrantly carnal stuff, thunderously adult rock by, for and about the grown and sexy.

SETLIST

  1. We Real Cool
  2. Jubilee Street
  3. Tupelo
  4. Red Right Hand
  5. Mermaids
  6. From Her to Eternity
  7. Love Letter
  8. God Is in the House
  9. Higgs Boson Blues
  10. The Mercy Seat
  11. Stagger Lee
  12. Push the Sky Away

 

Author: Joe Gross

Joe Gross has covered books, movies, music and culture for the American-Statesman since 2002. He tweets at @joegross.

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