Thursday, April 11, 2013

Arena Rock

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds / Sharon Van Etten
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco
April 9, 2013

Nick Cave playing an ARENA in the Bay Area?!  WTF?!  Granted, Nick has historically played 2 nights in San Francisco on every Bad Seeds tour dating back to, I think, 1998 so the audience is here.  However, entering the 7,000 capacity Civic to see Nick where bands like Tool and Soundgarden usually headline was bizarre.   I was also not looking forward to hearing Cave play in the notorious concrete box that is the Civic; it's usually a place where live sound goes to die.  The thought also entered my mind that this was probably the biggest venue that Nick & the Bad Seeds have ever headlined in America.  

Before the show I had an unexpectedly awesome dinner with some old friends at a nearby eatery where no meat is served.   These are people who I have seen Nick Cave with dating back 20 years.  It was the perfect way to ease into the evening and, to paraphrase a lyric by tonight's headliner, "those sinister dinner deals" are always the most fun.

Sharon Van Etten was a nice surprise as she was really good, with a strong, booming voice that held the attention of the vast space admirably.  I will need to seek out her music and she also gets big bonus points for having a shirt at the merch stand that was a take on the vintage Van Halen logo. 

Awesome, right?

Perhaps in an attempt to make the show "bigger" for the arena, the Bad Seeds were joined tonight by a string section and a local children's choir from Berkeley.  They had not performed with the strings and choir on this current leg of the tour, so it was deja vu back to the special Los Angeles show that I saw in February.  The ensemble comfortably filled the big stage and right away the vibe was different than the intimate L.A. show where the Nick and his cast had looked crowded together.   Tonight the cast had room to roam and breath on the big stage and they certainly did... especially Nick.

The set opened with 4 songs off the latest album and the performances were even better than when I had seen them performed a couple of months ago... which is saying a lot because the show in L.A. had been amazing.  The swagger of the Bad Seeds onstage tonight was even more confident after touring for the past couple of months.  I also think that maybe the Berkeley kids choir tonight was better than the one used in Los Angeles.  Sorry, kids.  Also, the sound mix and clarity was, dare I say it, astonishingly good!  Clear and crisp.  Evidently the local promoter operating the Civic made some sonic upgrades to the old concrete box.  Trivia:  Metallica played the song 'Master Of Puppets' for the first time ever at the Civic on New Year's Eve 1985.

Arena Rock Cave

Despite my fears about the show being in an arena, I should never have doubted Nick.  He really stepped things up to project himself in the huge space, which probably shouldn't have been a surprise since he's played big outdoor festivals in Europe for decades.  I don't think I've seen Nick work a stage so hard and be so animated since maybe 1992.  This included going to far stage left during 'Red Right Hand' and leaning into the crowd like he was Iggy Pop... and then balancing on top of the crowd barrier during 'Stagger Lee' and, with audience members helping him keep balance, walking practically the entire length of it like a tight rope walker.  He did the latter while not missing a beat with the lyrics and all of its required uses of "motherfucker".   Very impressive.

However, my favorite moment of the set was one of the best versions of 'From Her To Eternity' that I've ever seen Nick perform (Umlaut has seen every Nick show in San Francisco since 1990 as well as a couple of shows in London in 1999).  Even Nick agreed as he said "That was good!" after the song blazed to a close. The show lasted two hours and 18 songs; I was so enthralled by the performance that I forgot we were in an arena. I should not have doubted Nick & the Bad Seeds.

Number of Voivod and Iron Maiden tees = 1 each... and neither one of them was mine.  If you bought one of every Nick Cave merch item you would have paid around $350.  Nick's merch has always sucked but I was surprised by how much he had this time.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags.  To give some perspective on how important Nick Cave has been to me, according to the Umlaut Archives these are the bands who I have seen in concert the most in my life so far:
  • Metallica - 48 times
  • Melvins - 36 times (probably more times as some shows were not documented)
  • Acid King - 29 times (probably more times as some shows were not documented)
  • Slayer - 24 times (probably more times as some shows were not documented)
  • Exodus - 23 times (probably more times as some shows were not documented)
  • Neurosis - 20 times (probably more times as some shows were not documented)
  • Nick Cave - 17 times
As I said earlier, I don't think I've seen Nick as animated as he was tonight since probably 1992.  For the newbies, this is what Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were like back in nineteen hundred & ninety two:

Good times a long time ago... When Nick Cave was my main role model and I drank a lot.