BEING THERE: Nick Cave @ The Mann

Nick Cave, Mann Music Center, 9:01 pm Friday by DAN LONG

DAN DELUCA: Way back in the 1980s and 1990s, when the Australian punk-goth songwriter Cave was in the early stages of what has become a legendary career, I was a Nick Cave skeptic. Sure, I was attuned to the sheer force of the music he made with The Birthday Party and The Bad Seeds, with its combustive mixture of gospel, blues, and early rock and roll influences, and the way his sound was shot through with intermingling gangsta-outlaw and Biblical imagery. But it all seemed a too humorless and heavy handed to me, too willfully bloody and macho, as if Cave was always trying to show off his abiding enthusiasm for the Louvin Brothers by killing off another woman in song and dragging her body through the woods. Decades later, Cave is a different kind of animal. And animal is the operative word, because on stage, Cave and the band (featuring feral violinist Warren Ellis) play with primal, animalistic fervor, delivering songs of brooding, measured grace that burst out in sustained sections of explosive rage. They’re not fooling around up there. But Cave, at 54, is much more playful with his persona than he once was. (Or who knows, maybe I missed the self awareness the first time around.) What’s incontestable is that he’s a remarkable front man, working the stage like a demon as footlights cast his giant shadow on the walls of the Mann, and as he put the world’s longest microphone cord to good use as he spent about 1/4 of the band’s galvanic set (which lost a little steam during an encore in which he took requests) moving about in the crowd, a good 10 rows in, while he encouraged reserved seat holders to move down and fill up the aisles around him. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: If you heard a distant rumble or saw a flash of light on the Northwest horizon last night around 9 p.m., that was Nick Cave, like a bat out of hell, smiting Glenside to a crisp as per his satanic majesty’s request. And it was good. Very good. How could it not be? Everyone knows Heaven has better weather but Hell has all the best bands. Cave looked and sounded in peak form (good hair, great suit, whipped himself about the stage like an electrocuted Elvis), and his voice contained multitudes. Deep, dulcet, and strong like bull. Part angel-headed hipster, part Pentecostal preacherman, part medicine show barker, part lounge singer lothario. All pomade and sweat and jive and Old Testament gravitas. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: Nick Cave is sitting across from me in a hotel room in Denmark, hours before his appearance at the Roskilde Festival, where he’ll share an audience of 60,0000 with the likes of Dylan, Neil Young, Beck and PJ Harvey (with whom he shared brief romantic dalliance, the rise and fall of which he chronicled on 1997’s The Boatman’s Call). Although he was born in Australian 44 years ago, Cave has lived the latter half of his life in London or on the continent. He is, for all intents and purposes, a European son, and he’s treated like royalty. People take off hats and open doors when he walks by. Ever the clotheshorse, Cave is sporting a cranberry paisley shirt; snug, wood-colored pants wrap his long toothpick legs. He’s tall and needle-thing, his eyes clear and intensely blue. Though Cave has been described as the only man who can pull off a mullet, his hair is bobbed short and, as always, dyed ink black. For the first and possibly last time in his life, he has grown a beard. He’s warm and courteous and, by his own admission, quite shy. He’s also—and this is something he rarely gets credit for—quite funny. Years ago, he would think nothing of punching out journalists if they crossed him, and he still does not suffer fools gladly. Just graciously. MORE

RELATED: After opening the show with a handful of long, slow-burning potboilers from the new Push The Sky Away, Cave and co. released the bats and let rip with the classics (“The Mercy Seat,” “Deanna,” “Red Right Hand,” “The Weeping Song”) as well as some deep-catalog nuggets for the devout (“From Her To Eternity,” “Your Funeral, My Trial” and a hellfire-and-brimstone “Tupelo” for an encore). But the real revelation last night was “Higgs Boson Blues,” a song that, sequenced eighth out of nine songs, gets lost on the new album which suffers somewhat from an overabundance of meditative midtempo-ness. On record, the song is largely notable for the metaphysical cleverness of its title, but last night “Higgs Boson Blues” was a long, sweaty noir-ish hallucination that somehow combined Lucifer, Robert Johnson, the Large Hadron Collider, speaking in tongues, Hannah Montana crying with the dolphins, the assassination of Martin Luther King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, and the God Particle into a dream narrative whose surreal profundities, as they are wont to do, defy literal explanation. But it all ends satisfyingly with Miley Cyrus floating face down in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake like William Holden at the beginning of “Sunset Boulevard.” Let us pray. MORE