Many people on this planet, facing an unfortunate separation by time, have never experienced The Doors in a live setting. Only through words, film and old recordings can we get some impression of Jim Morrison’s on-stage rants and rhythms, the likes of which, all considered, were best enjoyed by a lucky few. However, halfway through a live performance of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, don’t be surprised to fall into a kind of trance—one aroused by seductive words, snake-charmer musings. Your sight will go gauzy, and you’ll get it: The spirit of the The Lizard King is alive and well.
Such an experience was had one cold March night at Glenside’s Keswick Theatre just outside Philadelphia. Listening to The Bad Seeds suggested their leader and The Doors’ frontman could be cut from disparate ends of the same cloth—Morrison’s shaggy bohemian versus Cave’s dapper hired gun, each capable of running through a captivating gauntlet of ramshackle murder ballads, stream-of-consciousness blues and moody chamber pop.
Music from The Bad Seeds’ latest album, Push the Sky Away, formed parentheses around the evening. Four new songs started off the show, and the ethereal title track closed the encore. On record, this new music has more of a wide-open feel than much of their back catalog, recalling Cave and lead Seed Warren Ellis’ recent country-influenced side projects. At the Keswick, however, the balladry of “Wide Lovely Eyes” and fantasy of “Higgs Boson Blues” find new energy through Cave’s commanding stage prowl and growl, Conway Savage’s keyboards and especially the rhythms, made possible by bassist Martyn Casey and percussionists Jim Sclavunos and the long-absent Bad Seed, Barry Adamson.
At the center of Cave’s set was a finely curated selection of fan and band favorites, egged on by backup singers Shilpa Ray and Sharon Van Etten, touring artists in their own right. (Van Etten is Cave’s opening act on this North American tour.) “Red Right Hand” is as close to a pop anthem as The Bad Seeds have, and this performance found Ellis hammering at his violin as the crowd pumped their fists and chanted the title in unison. “God is in the House” was a whispered highlight, while “From Her to Eternity” was desperate and maniacal, with Cave traversing the first few rows of seats to scream the chorus in people’s faces.
Cave’s controlled malevolence touched the crowd a few other times during the night, most notably in his interaction with a fan talking about her husband during the reprise of a screaming “Stagger Lee.” Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds managed momentum like an avalanche cascading down a mountain (“The Mercy Seat”) and spread it around with wild, painful sprawl (“Jack the Ripper”). It was a show and a night marked by angry and sad catharsis: joy in depression, turning up silence, and being shown the way to the next whiskey bar.