Opening the night was Mark Lanegan, former frontman of Screaming Trees. With a Waits-ian rasp, he sang accompanied only by a guy on electric guitar, his voice definitely the defining quality of the set. But he wasn't very talkative, not even addressing the crowd once, and barely moved from his "singing position"; one hand on the mic, one hand on the mic stand.
His set mixed his own solo material with covers like Bobby Darrin's "Mack The Knife", and while it was by no means bad, a lot of the songs bled into each other, and I have a feeling it would have come across a lot more engaging were it at a smaller, club venue as opposed to a giant theatre venue. Or if I been more familiar with him, or with the lyrics.
Not long after, at 9 sharp, the six members of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds took the stage to wild cheers. They immediately launched into "We No Who U R", the lead track to the latest album Push The Sky Away before "Jubilee Street" from the same album, a song which built to an ending to intense, culminating in broken guitar strings. From there the two hour set spanned the band's entire 30 year career, from the latest album all the way back to their earliest work with songs like "Tupelo" from the '85 album The Firstborn Is Dead, which grabbed the crowd as Cave urged everyone not already packed at the stage to come forward.
As one of the most charismatic and intense frontmen I have seen, the only time Nick Cave was close to being still was when he was behind the piano for gorgeous songs like "Into My Arms". The rest of the set he was stalking the front of the stage with more energy and passion than anyone I have seen perform. Orchestrating both the band and the crowd, Cave posed and thrust at the edge of the stage, and even had boxes set up so he could wade into the crowd, which he did frequently, reaching for outstretched hands. During the raucous "From Her To Eternity" he even pulled up one lucky girl to dance with him. It was the exact opposite of Lanegan's stage presence, which was made apparent when Cave invited him out to duet on "The Weeping Song".
And that's to say nothing of the rest of the band. Incredibly tight and flawless, especially multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, who tore it up on everything from bass to electric ukulele to microkorg, and especially on violin.
As well as spanning the band's three decade career, the songs ranged from beautiful to manic, two of the most extreme examples coming at the very end of the set; the Murder Ballad "Stagger Lee" in which Cave graphically acted out the wanton sexual and violent acts in the song's narrative, followed by the amazingly beautiful title track to Push The Sky Away, Cave softly crooning "Some people say it's just rock & roll / ah but it gets you right down in your soul" before saying goodnight.
But of course they were not done there (the mystery of the encore quashed a little by techs doing a quick bass check and drum tightening) as they were back for another handful of songs.
Starting off with another haunting piano number, the subversive "God Is In The House" was followed by requests shouted out from the crowd; older songs like "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry" and "Do You Love Me?" had Cave as full of passion as he was at the start of the set. And finally, the band wrapped it up fittingly with a twist on an old tale, "The Lyre of Orpheus" as they ended the first of two nights at the Orpheum.
For ten years now, Cave has been one of my favourite artists, and while I have only seen him live thrice (twice with The Bad Seeds, once as Grinderman) I can undoubtedly say he is one of the single best frontmen I have witnessed. I have seen people half his age with a quarter of the raw passion and visceral energy he pours out, and no one knows how to work the crowd quite like him.
There is a reason the band's live shows have been heralded as legendary, and I can't imagine anyone seeing them live, and not leaving breathless.
We No Who U R; Jubilee Street; Tupelo; Red Right Hand; Mermaids; From Her To Eternity; West Country Girl; Into My Arms; People Ain't No Good; The Weeping Song; Higgs Boson Blues; The Mercy Seat; Stagger Lee; Push the Sky Away.
(encore) God Is In The House; The Ship Song; Papa Won't Leave You, Henry; Do You Love Me?; The Lyre of Orpheus.