Since their last visit to Dallas five years ago, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have gained more commendation with the release of their last studio album, Skeleton Tree, in 2016. Performing songs from the album Tuesday night at The Bomb Factory proved that the band’s 35-year career has produced a mastery of dynamics — the ability to control volume and create a roller coaster of emotions.
With a full moon closing in, ticket-holders were still arriving to line up outside the venue 30 minutes prior to show time. It was fairly fresh for a fall evening, but some already looked eager to be sporting black winter wear. A few people buying merchandise could be seen in a far corner of the entrance area as the line moved nearer, and instrumental music began to be heard as well. This music was like a brooding soundscape warning its listeners of incoming chaos, which perhaps was the intent given the band.
People began to fill the large general admission area and spent their time waiting by chatting over drinks, phone checks and looking at the unlit stage. There were a few comments about the instrumental music heard here and there, but what many mostly heard were the hyped-up claps and cheers for the yet-unseen band during instrumental songs transitioning to the next.
About 8:40 p.m., the instrumental music faded, followed by a blackout. The crowd cheered for six Bad Seeds as they walked onstage to take hold of their instruments and cheered louder when Nick Cave walked onstage last to start singing the first song, “Jesus Alone.” Cave, wearing his formal slim-cut suit, spared no time going straight to the audience to look them dead in the eyes and hold their hands while he sang. This was an action he repeated through most of the show and was not necessarily a means to greet each individual audience member. Rather, it seemed as if he were collecting their energy to morph it into cathartic release.
Cave’s movement onstage made it apparent that he truly felt what he was singing. He jumped all over the stage, kept on whipping both his arms left and right simultaneously, and pointed his finger at any and all audience members to give an intimate show. He interacted with the crowd in an in-your-face, punk-oriented style that was juxtaposed by his ability to stop it all at once and go into a fragile, quiet state that demanded attention and silence from the audience.
The band’s backdrop projected black-and-white real-time footage of Cave singing, fading in through certain song sections and fading out right after. The stage setup had a serious and ominous feeling to it through the first song, but the feeling went away when it ended. As soon as Cave thanked the audience, he made a remark to people in the front to put their phones away. Those near and behind them cheered at the comment, yet phones were still used afterward.
Going into heavier songs like “Higgs Boson Blues,” Cave’s sense of humor became more visible as he laughed with audience members when he got closer to them. One fan got so close to Cave that he had to stop singing in the middle of one song to comment. “You’re going to have to stop doing that,” he said. “Hashtag me too, bitch. That’s sexual harassment in the workplace.”
His increase in humor, however, didn’t slow down the intensity of the performance. Instead, it energized Cave more, causing him to start chants like “boom, boom, boom” during “Higgs Boson Blues” in which he lyrically asks, “Can you feel my heartbeat?”
There was then a shift back in time when they began playing songs from their older catalog such as “Do You Love Me?,” “From Her to Eternity” and “Loverman.” A greater number of people started singing along, and all the instruments onstage became clearer to see with more colored lights illuminating them. Two drum sets, guitars, basses, additional percussion equipment like bells and xylophone, violin, piano — all had already been played but were being used more forcefully. One audience member thanked Cave for playing a favorite song of his, and Cave, in keeping with his humor, replied with, “You don’t have to thank me. This is a fucking rock gig.”
Gradually, the band transitioned to slower songs, starting with “Red Right Hand” which Cave called “a song for Texas.” Red light covered the Bad Seeds, and Cave, rasping the words to the song, took the presence of a menacing leader trying to convince those who dare look at him that he holds the key to their lives. That’s the unique talent Cave holds; he’s a storyteller who tells the story as if he’s experienced it himself. This was also felt in the live renditions of “The Ship Song” and “Into My Arms,” both of which were touching, piano-driven songs that required silence to respect their tenderness.
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The tempo sped up a bit when “Tupelo” began and hurricane footage was projected on the backdrop. Cave grabbed more audience members’ hands and screamed at their faces to scream with him or to keep fist pumping. Eventually, he plunged into the middle of the crowd during “The Weeping Song” to get people to clap along with him. Continuing to clap, Cave snaked his way to the far middle left side of the general admission area and stood up on a platform. Onstage, real-time footage of Cave was projected, displaying a man looking down at his followers, commanding them to clap and chant with him.
Cave stood there for the duration of the song and stayed there as he directed the band to start on the next song, “Stagger Lee.” During this time, he got down from the platform and started inviting people up to the stage as he himself made his way up there. Suddenly, there was a large group of people dancing and singing along with Cave onstage, while he interacted with some of them and still paid attention to those not onstage.
When the song ended, Cave told the people blocking the band to sit down. He began to sing “Push the Sky Away,” looking closely at those sitting right by him and holding some of their hands. It would be the first song he’d say was the last of the night and walked backstage when it ended. The people onstage were escorted back down, and after a blackout, the Bad Seeds returned for a two-song encore that would end their two-hour set.
After giving their thanks and goodbyes, the band walked back to where they initially entered. Lights brightened the sticky floor full of cups and beer cans. The Bad Seeds showed Dallas that they can indeed perform one more time with feeling.