Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Push the Sky Away” at the Fonda In Hollywood Feb 21

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds celebrated the release of their 15th studio album “Push the Sky Away” with a special show at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood on Feb 21. This show marks a different sort of album release than they’ve ever done before. Instead of the usual more extensive tours that the band has done in the past, they’ve elected to do exclusive small-venue album release performances in a few cities around the world. We in Los Angeles were lucky to have the opportunity to see their album release show at the intimate Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. The show was filmed by Rockfeedback and broadcast live worldwide.

Writing about this show in particular is an honor to me. While standing amongst Nick Cave fans mulling about the Fonda waiting for the show to begin, I found myself remembering the first time I heard Nick Cave’s music. I was 12 and I saw the Wim Wenders film “Wings of Desire.” Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are the band performing in a concert scene in the film and I recall being fascinated by their performance. I had never seen or heard anything like their intensity on stage before. I went to Tower Records that week and bought my first Bad Seeds album. I remember pouring over which album to buy because I could only afford one and I ended up choosing the “Live Seeds” album because, still skeptical, I figured if the band sounds good live then they were good. I was not disappointed. Since then, I’ve followed all of their new album releases and I have seen them perform live several times.

While every Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds show I have seen has been compelling in its own way, no other show like this show reminded me so much why I first fell in love with their music those many years ago.

In step with what a different direction this new album is for the band sonically, the live show was unlike anything they have ever done. In addition to their usual Bad Seed line up of piano, keyboards, bass, drums, guitar, vocals and mutli-instrumentalist Warren Ellis creating the atmosphere with violin, flute, guitar and a barrage of pedals, they performed with a children’s choir, a sting section, and two female backing vocalists. The result was stunning, especially on the builds of such songs as “Jubilee Street,” “Push the Sky Away,” and “O Children.” While the word epic is usually grossly overused, it fits here. The children’s choir, the Silverlake Music Conservatory, added a particular poignancy to one of Nick Cave’s classic love songs “The Ship Song.”

The band performed the new album from start to finish in album order and then followed up with some of their older material, some of which I had never seen them perform live. While the children’s choir added a moving emotional element to the new album, admittedly it was a little hilarious to see Nick Cave attempt to hold back some of his usual irreverent banter between songs while the children were on stage. Once the children left for the latter part of the set, he fully unleashed his usual fearless frontman self, boldly performing some of his earlier material like “Jack the Ripper,” “Red Right Hand,” “Deanna,” “The Mercy Seat,” and, the most delightfully irreverent of them all, “Stagger Lee.” In addition to Cave’s rousing performances of these intense songs, he played the touching ballad “Love Letter,” made more moving by the string section.

Parts of the new album reminded me of “Henry’s Dream” era Nick Cave, where he really began to unleash the full fury of his poetry while his band created tense, driving sonic backdrops. “Push the Sky Away” sees an older and wiser frontman just doing it better- more thoughtfully and more sensually. An NPR review of the album used adjectives  like “full-bodied” which made it sound like they were reviewing wine. I laughed at the time, but after this show, I agree. Like a fine wine, Nick Cave has gotten better with age.

In a youth-obsessed industry and society, it seems we can be more comfortable with rockstars who burn out and die young. Nick Cave, who somehow navigated the perils of youthful rockstardom to keep pushing himself to constantly create better work, can teach us all a little about that. One of the most poignant parts of this show for me was the performance of the new album’s title track. It’s lyrics touch upon mortality and following one’s path, no matter what anyone else’s opinions are. In “Push the Sky Away,” Cave croons “And if your friends think that you should do it different/ And if they think that you should do it the same/ You’ve got to just keep on pushing/Keep on pushing/ Push the sky away.” It was an interesting juxtaposition to have the children singing “push the sky away” with Cave. It gave me the sense that no matter what your age, you must just meet life head on and keep challenging yourself to be better and better versions of yourself. This album and this show are a testament to that.

With “Push the Sky Away,” the Bad Seeds have created a work unlike any they have ever done, with Warren Ellis experimenting with subtle electronic elements and the band creating tense atmospheric grooves behind Cave’s more mature and introspective poetry. While some veteran bands have struggled to keep creating challenging, new material, this album proves that it can be done if you “keep on pushing.” Leaving the show at the end of the beautifully epic set, I felt like I had not only been taken on a journey for those two hours, but all the years I have listened to and loved this band. Some reviews have likened this album to their best album to date. I am inclined to agree… that is, until the next time they “push the sky away.”

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