Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Earth, The Showbox at SoDo, 9/23/08
I’d really been looking forward to seeing this show since Science Girl told me she’d gotten the tickets. The last couple of Bad Seeds albums have been really strong, of course, and I’d always heard that Cave puts on a hell of a show. When I found out yesterday afternoon that Earth was opening I actually became somewhat giddy, seeing as The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull is one of my favorite albums this year. Win/win, right?
One of the things that makes that Earth album so amazing is the hypnotically repetitive nature of the songs; the same chords patterns, played slowly (oh so slowly) over and over, allow the listener to hear the interplay of all sorts of overtones and grace notes that might fly by otherwise. Hearing the band live, however, pointed out something else – in the studio, you can dub in numerous playings of those chord patterns and set up even more overtones than you can live. Sounds great in your headphones, but live it comes out a little thin.
Part of the problem may have been due to the fact that, in an attempt to save what’s left of my hearing (and at this late date, I’m down to about 20% in my right ear; left one seems mostly OK, although I’m sure I’m missing some higher frequencies), I have to wear my Rock & Roll Earplugs every time I go to a show. They work pretty well, but they also mask a lot of the upper end, so it’s entirely possible that those overtones I was “missing” were simply being blocked by the foam plugs.
Did Lester Bangs ever have this problem? Well, no. Then again he died at age 33, so I’ve already got him beat by fourteen years thus far. Nyah, nyah.
Anyway. Earth. I’m not sorry I got to see them play. It was interesting to watch drummer Adrienne Davies keeping time, for one thing. Those glacial beats have got to be almost as difficult to keep regular as the more Keith Moon-esque “hit everything, real fast” style that tends to draw a lot more attention to itself. Also, Steve Moore’s trombone solo (!!) on their last song of the show (untitled, as far as I remember, and I didn’t get the impression that they’d recorded it yet) was an unexpected treat. As I’ve already hinted at, some of the interplay between Moore’s keyboards and Dylan Carlson’s guitar didn’t necessarily translate live, but what was there was quite good.
And, y’know, minor disappointments aside, even a sparser Earth sound is pretty damned good. I just didn’t find myself getting mesmerized the way I do when I play the disc at home. And yeah yeah, the live experience isn’t meant to re-create the album in note-for-note perfection (unless you’re the Eagles, in which case please stop wasting electricity that could be put to better use turning rotisserie chicken). I get that.
Which brings us to the Bad Seeds. All reports of their going all-out live have been confirmed. Cave wriggles, kicks and flaps his arms like the slightly unsavory hipster/carny/Baptist preacher he so resembles, Warren Ellis writhes around while at various moments scraping away at either the mandocaster, violin, or tenor guitar, and sweating into his most impressive beard, and the rest of the band grinds away like the well-oiled juggernaut they’ve become over the years.
How was the sound? Well, without wanting to put too fine a point on it, “for shit” sums things up pretty well.
Not that the band played poorly, I hasten to add. Actually, I can’t really tell you much about how they played at all. I don’t know who mixed the sound last night, but they need to be kept far, far away from a mixing board until they get a few things sorted out. Jesus wept. That was absolutely the most abysmal sound I’ve ever heard in all my years of witnessing live music, bar none. The drums and bass came through just fine, along with maybe 75% of the vocals. Every time Ellis picked up one of his instruments, though, everything else was swamped by massive waves of lower-frequency feedback/distortion/something fucked up. I don’t know enough about sound engineering to tell you what was going on, but I can tell you that it made everything sound like “RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRowerwerwewerwrwewreR RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR”, which gets a bit tiresome after awhile. There were two keyboardists onstage; at various points one of them played guitar, as did Cave. I could not tell you if any of those instruments were plugged in or not.
Mr. Cave was obviously not happy with what he was getting through his monitor, either; I saw him fling a guitar pick with great vigor in the direction of the sound desk, and he stalked over there for a word (presumably) on several occasions. I found myself hoping he’d grab whoever it was by the scruff of the neck and drag them over the top of the desk and out to center stage, where he’d proceed to stomp on their fingers with his pointy boots. Alas, no such luck.
So it was that the show I’d been so looking forward to left me with not much more than empty regret for the show that could have been, and deep throbbing pain in my too-old-for-this-shit-anymore knees. Ibuprofen before the show from now on, and I must not forget to bend my knees from time to time.
Old age is no place for sissies.