Nick Cave’s history in Kansas City is murky, at least to him. While addressing his audience at the Midland theater on Wednesday, Cave recalled a Lollapalooza performance at what was then the Sandstone Amphitheater in Bonner Springs back in the mid-1990s (it was 1995).
Otherwise, he figured Wednesday’s show was his only other in Kansas City, a declaration that has been disputed by at least two people who remember a show in downtown Kansas City in June of 1984.
Nonetheless, a large majority of the crowd that nearly filled the Midland was seeing Cave and his band, the Bad Seeds, for the first time, and for many it was a long-awaited opportunity to punch a hole in a bucket list.
And that was the anticipatory vibe that filled the theater all night, before the show and through the opening set by Warpaint, a Los Angeles quartet that deserved more attention than it generated.
Cave and his band took the stage at 9 p.m., and immediately ignited the mood in the room. Cave wore a dark pin-striped suit over a white button-down shirt with a big collar. He is long and spindly and there is much kinetic melodrama and some lounge-lizardness to his act, one that is both sinister and seductive. It recalls everyone from Jim Morrison (speaking of lizards) and Neil Diamond to James Brown and even Elvis, if you want to include that impressive mane of hair. Anyone in the first three rows or so was subjected to his hands-on antics, as if he were a faith healer or a preacher selling redemption.
Cave was the focus of attention throughout a set that lasted a few minutes short of 100 minutes (including the one-song encore), even amid heavy competition from an impressive light show and a band that relentlessly issued incendiary salvos of music that was primarily and incessantly loud, heavy and dark. His dark, deep-from-the-well voice accentuates the music’s eerie mood.
The Bad Seeds paint in varying shades of black and deep grey and hues of distemper and gloom. They can be punishing and precise all at once. The one spell of relief came when Cave took a seat at the piano and delivered three ballads, each imbued with heavy melancholy but bearing his knack for sweet melody, which can get buried in the Seeds’ typical rock-storm arrangements.
If anyone or anything distracted from Cave and his evangelical choreography, it was Warren Ellis, his guitarist and violinist, who looks like a younger brother of Leland Sklar and who issued plenty of high-voltage energy all night, physically and musically.
The setlist included favorites like “Tupelo” and “Mercy Seat,” which suffered a false start, “God Is In the House” and “The Ship Song.” It also included tracks from the Cave and the band’s latest recording, “Push the Sky Away,” including “We No Who U R,” which opened the show, “Jubilee Street” and the title track. That one closed the set. Cave and the band would return, but only for one encore (he’d been doing three at previous shows): “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry,” from “Henry’s Dream,” released in 1992.
Cave did leave the stage after that song, somewhat abruptly and unexpectedly. Nonetheless, the mood in the theater after the show was a mix of awe and deep satisfaction. Some reacted like God really had been in the house, others like we’d seen something for the first time that we’re not likely to see too soon again.
Set list: We No Who U R; Jubilee Street; Tupelo; Red Right Hand; Mermaids; From Her to Eternity; The Weeping Song; Into My Arms; God Is In the House; The Ship Song; Higgs Boson Blues; The Mercy Seat; Stagger Lee; Push the Sky Away. Encore: Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry.
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