Release Date: Dec 3, 2013
Record label: Bad Seeds Ltd.
While shell-shocked fans recover from Nick Cave’s recent live shows – pounding Old Testament fucks of thunder and high drama that have seen the re-modeled Bad Seeds at their absolute peak – there’s another side to the dark overlord of which we perhaps need reminding. Away from the stage-stalking, crotch-in-the-face thrashes of black lightning that have struck both theatres and festivals over the last year there’s an aspect to Cave’s work that deals more in sadness and romance than violence and sex, expresses the subtleties of pain over the grandiosity of tragedy. It’s the aspect of the artist you’ll remember from The Boatman’s Call and No More Shall We Part, a bruised black flower writhing among the thorns of an emotional rose bushes of his own making.
The trouble with studio albums is they don't always capture the essence of a band in the flesh. In the case of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds it's a point that's amplified by their blistering outings in support of album number 15, Push the Sky Away. For a band whose integral parts have each passed a half century in years, there are few more beseeching, emotionally raw and darn right beautiful acts currently plying their trade.
Few who've seen them would argue that the Bad Seeds aren't the most explosive, charismatic live band going, but here they strip down to play mellower fare. That's not to say it's not intense or pensive in its own right; Cave is a master of phrasing and knows how to enhance the suspense and drama in his carefully written lyrics. The set list here, drawing a bit from 2013's Push the Sky Away and then from throughout their catalogue, features longer songs, each drawn out patiently, and rewards fans before trying to impress novices.
Come Christmas Day, when old Saint Nick sinks down into his chair, glass of sherry in his hand, paper hat on his head, and takes a moment to reflect on his annus, he can afford to crack a smile. Because 2013 has been a good year for him and The Bad Seeds. The year 2013 has included a wonderful, slow burning album (Push The Sky Away), that introduced itself with little fanfare, then stood in the corner tapping its watch, waiting for you to catch up.
Upon its release last February, Push the Sky Away immediately asserted itself as an outlier amid the Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds catalogue. It was the rare album of theirs to favor vaporous, smoke-ring ambience over the band’s notorious gavel-crushing wallop, and drifting, abstract lyricism over Cave’s usual scripture-scaled narratives. But it’s not like this risky low-key detour hurt their live draw: the Bad Seeds’ spring 2013 tours saw them selling out soft-seaters worldwide, and a recently released 2014 itinerary sees them returning to many of the same markets at even bigger venues.
In April 2013, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds were booked to play the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and with the same lineup of acts appearing two consecutive weekends, Cave and his bandmates had a few days to kill in California. During their downtime in the Golden State, Cave and the Bad Seeds cut a live-in-the-studio session for Santa Monica's public radio station KCRW-FM, and the recordings have been released under the straightforward (if less than imaginative) title Live from KCRW. Given that Cave's Push the Sky Away had been released just two months earlier, it should come as no surprise that the KCRW set followed the soulful but understated tone of that album, and the two releases share four songs, but in many respects, this is a richer and more emotionally engaging experience, and nearly as precise.
The Los Angeles-based KCRW sessions are legendary to some; its Morning Becomes Eclectic broadcasts were a must-hear throughout the 90s. Now Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds release a live album recorded for the radio station in an intimate venue. It must have been something for the lucky few present, but this document doesn’t quite do the job. The brilliance of the Bad Seeds’ current live show, touring Push The Sky Away, is how they create intimacy in a large venue: Cave grasps onto front-row fans’ hands as if they’re crutches; at the piano, in October this year, he had the 6,000-seater Hammersmith Apollo rapt at his every word on the likes of God Is In The House and Mermaids.
"And I hear stories from a chamber/ How Christ was born into a manger/ And like some ragged stranger/ Died upon the cross/ And might I say, it seems so fitting in its way/ He was a carpenter by trade/ Or at least, that's what I'm told." So runs Nick Cave's take on the Christian fable, recounted once again on a recent live version of the Bad Seeds' 1988 classic, The Mercy Seat. On Live from KCRW, Cave intones the words calmly, wryly, almost unburdened of the brimstone of old. Cave's narrator is about to be put to death himself, but 25 years on seems considerably more resolved about things.
Earlier this year while waiting to interview Beady Eye in a north London rehearsal studio, your humble scribe unexpectedly spent some time in the company of The Bad Seeds' metronomic man mountain that is Jim Sclavunos. Suited and booted at 10am and charming almost to a fault, the drummer explained that, despite having already been touring their fifteenth studio album, Push The Sky Away, the band were now hunkering down to rehearse for festival performances which would involve tweaking a number of their songs for the purposes of set and setting. It's precisely this approach to their art that's evident throughout the 10 live readings – 12 for all you vinyl junkies out there – contained in this recording made in front of a small audience for LA radio station KCRW.
Though more stately than one might expect – lacking in the usual bluster of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ oeuvre – Live From KCRW is an assured yet restrained testament to the band as a creative live force. Live From KCRW kicks off with “Higgs Boson Blues”, the neurotic post-millennial climax to Push The Sky Away. As on record, the dirge gives Cave the chance to voice his nihilistic anxieties by name-checking teenage popstars (“Hannah Montana does the African Savannah/As the simulated rainy season begins”).