Today’s Lesson

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Spiritualized, and Cat Power at the Hollywood Bowl

I recently became a fan of Nick Cave. It’s not that I wasn’t familiar with him before, but I guess you could say that I took him for granted. He was a ubiquitous figure in the goth/post-punk/alternative rock landscape, and an undeniable influence on several musicians that I love. Yet aside from the odd Birthday Party live album or compilation track, I never owned any Nick Cave records. I got into Bad Seeds offshoot The Dirty Three for awhile when I went through a long phase of only listening to incredibly sad music. Hell, I even went out and bought a Serge Gainsbourg covers album by Bad Seeds alums Mick Harvey and Anita Lane several years ago, but still no actual Nick Cave records.

All that began to gradually change over the past year or so, during which time I saw the video for “Mercy Seat” and was subjected to repeated spins of “Papa Won’t Leave You Henry” courtesy of my friends Tami & Tommy (who host a musical variety show on prime time). I started dialing the Bad Seeds in on the headphones during work, and allowing Cave’s hilarious and cryptic lyrics to invade my subconscious as I took to the daily grind.

When I heard that the Bad Seeds were playing in Hollywood with Spiritualized and Cat Power opening, my initial reaction was: “Is there a convention for recovering heroin addicts in town?” My second reaction was to admit that it was an impressive sounding lineup. One horrible experience getting ripped off at a Ticketbastard outlet in Koreatown later, and the lady and I were rocking the bleacher seats at the Bowl with a $23 bottle of white zinfandel.

We missed Cat Power’s 7:30 set due to the fact that SOME PEOPLE HAVE JOBS, but got to our bench in time for Spiritualized. I realized that it had been around 16 years since I first saw them, when they blew my mind (and blew the Jesus and Mary Chain and Curve off the stage) at the Cleveland Agora while supporting their debut Lazer Guided Melodies. After that I became a huge fan, listened to way too much Spiritualized and Spacemen 3, and began writing and recording music that bore a noticeable debt to the drone stylings of Jason “Spaceman” Pierce and his estranged former Spacemen 3 copilot Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember. This stopped after I’d lived in L.A. for a few years and noticed that every hipster with retro shades and a reto-er guitar was attempting to do the same thing – but that’s another blog entry altogether.

Spiritualized played a brief, yet solid set of material covering most of their albums (with the possible exception of Let It Come Down from 2001). Highlights for me included oldie-but-goodies “Shine A Light” (which was almost ruined by the douchebags behind me who kept talking loudly during the quiet parts), “Lay Back in the Sun” and “Come Together.” As with all large concerts, I found it hard to connect with the music onstage, as the physical size of the space creates a lack of intimacy. However, I have heard about a special secret small Spiritualized show that just might make up for it. More on that later…

Then the stage spun around, and a few minutes later Nick Cave walked out to rapturous applause. It was immediately apparent that this guy is a rock star; I can think of few of my rock’n’roll heroes who would get that kind of applause just for walking onstage. Garbed in a white dress shirt with open collar and a black suit, and sporting a handlebar mustache with his long thinning hair combed back, Cave looked like a cross between Wyatt Earp and a 70s porn “actor”. His larger-than-life persona reached all the way to the bleacher seats as he regaled the audience with tales of sex, murder and madness. The sound helped a lot, as a solid mix lent both the slow jams (of which there were several) and the rockers equal weight.

A clip from last night’s show, courtesy of MagentaStraberry on YouTube

The band tore through the bulk of their excellent new album Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, with a highlight being “We Call Upon the Author to Explain,” with it’s sudden shifts into techno-industrial dance funk (accompanied by a rave-appropriate rainbow light display) and cries of “Bukowski was a jerk!” Several Bad Seeds classics were aired, including “Deanna,” “Tupelo,” and the aforementioned “Mercy Seat” and “Papa Won’t Leave You Henry.” Upon learning that his set was being cut short due to the Hollywood Hills curfew (whatever – you people knew the Bowl was there when you moved in) and there would be no encore, Cave ended the set with a particularly profane rendition of the old murder ballad “Stagger Lee.” Using his body language to illustrate the controversial events that close his version of the song, Cave proved that he’s still a punk at heart. Even though he may be able to hang with the Hollywood elite in a luxurious concert hall, he’s still full of rage and bile, with just enough charisma and sex appeal to pass it off.

On the subway ride home, a kindly old black gentleman addressed the passengers, telling us we were all “rats.” He then said, “I hereby decree that everyone will have the day off tomorrow! Goodbye, rats!” and hopped off the train.  As we were leaving the station, a woman collapsed on the ground. We hung back to make sure she was ok, as a subway attendant shrugged and said “I don’t know Spanish.” There were no stabbings or bludgeonings, so overall it was a good public transit experience.

(Thanks to Housecat for help with this entry.)

Here’s a link that my friend Bill sent me to an old NME interview with Nick Cave, Mark E. Smith and Shane MacGowan! And I think one of the interviewers was Sean O’Hagan from the High Llamas. Pretty hilarious stuff.

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10 Responses to “Today’s Lesson”

  1. Ha! Great story. I told you guys it pays to take the subway!

  2. Thanks. The Metro is always an adventure…just ask Berlin!

  3. They’ve gotta learn to explore the open-air space. Really… explore the space.

    Sounds like you had a great time. As long as you don’t accidentally get on the Purple Line, things usually turn out okay. I road the Purple Line for an hour and a half solid one night, thinking I was going to hit the Highland stop sooner or later. Of course, it would never go to the Highland stop, because that would be the Red Line, and I’d gotten on the Purple without knowing it. I now know how Charlie Parker felt in the mid-1940s when he road the L.A. Pacific Red Car all night, literally losing his mind.

    Good writing. Keep em coming!

    Brian

    P.S. The Sean O’Hagan you mention is a UK rock journalist, not the guitarist/songwriter/arranger behind Microdisney, the High Llamas, Turn On and a buncha Stereolab LPs.

  4. Thanks, I knew you would be the go-to man for the O’Hagan demystification!

  5. ryan, you need, and i mean run out right now in your p.j.’s if you have to and buy right away three records; by nick cave and the bad seeds: “the first born is dead,” tender prey,” and “the good son.” if you’ld like to keep going get “henry’s dream,” if only for the second track “i had a dream joe.” any of the bad seeds “joe songs are amazing! on the “first born is dead,” “knocking on joe is my favorite song. i wish nick cave had played one of the joe songs at the show. i would have lost my mind. great show anyway. dig his new drunk, gambling with other people’s money stockbroker look. he never let’s me down.
    your freind always and most sincelerly, tami of tommy and tami

  6. “dig his new drunk, gambling with other people’s money stockbroker look.”
    That’s a prefect description!
    I will download those albums right now, and look for them on vinyl later so you don’t kill me… 🙂

  7. I wish that my recent Spiritualized experience had been anything to talk about, but I was quite disappointed. Cat Power was decent (for a new band), but I wish that Nick Cave had played here. Perhaps it is best that he did not, because the House Of Blues is a stupid venue to see a show…

    I have a feeling that I would have been disappointed even if Spiritualized had been good (they weren’t). Maybe I’m old-fashioned when it comes to my space-rock, but there’s been no Space in Spiritualized’s music for a few years now (and barely any Rock).

  8. Well, count yourself lucky that you were with me at that Agora show in 92 then. That was some mindblowing shit!

  9. House of Blues is horseshit here too. They might get shut down because of fights in the parking lot. We’re still dealing with the legacy of Motley Crue, which is L.A.’s version of “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.” I had a bouncer frisk me at a House of Blues/Frank Black show, which cost $42 plus surcharges. Parking was a bitch, as well. The only solace was watching the security guards try to give away free Kevin Federline tickets for the next night, and one of them literally laughing in hysterics because none of them could get a single person to bite.

  10. The Knitting Factory is pretty lame too. Any time the club is located in a shopping mall, you know it’s a bad idea.

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