Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have always been at their very best live. Cave is a showman, and gives the distinct impression that he writes to perform. Without the stage it is doubtful that he would have attempted or pulled off so many apparently effortless musical transformations. His most recent album, Push the Sky Away, brought him back together with the Bad Seeds after lengthy dalliance with Grinderman. There are always plenty of talented people around Cave, but the Bad Seeds are essential to his best work – like Neil Young’s Crazy Horse, but with much-enhanced musical skills and a healthier power relationship with the boss.
Cave and the Seeds have released four live albums including Live from KCRW, three the last six years, but still not many opportunities to provide an account of a thirty-year career. 1993’s Live Seeds is the essential Cave album of its time, a near-perfect capsule of barely controllable energy. The Abattoir Blues Tour (2007) is a more sprawling document, while Live at the Royal Albert Hall (2008) reflects the sound of the No More Shall We Part era. In this respect it is similar to Live from KCRW, which is stocked with performances from Cave’s most recent material. It consists of ten tracks, four taken from Push the Sky Away, while the remainder are a stripped down selection of concert favourites.
Push the Sky Away was received with some rather predictable critical obeisance, suggesting Nick Cave could be moving into dangerous, cultural icon territory. It was not as a good an album as its press suggested and, despite containing great songs, fell short of its obvious companion record, The Boatman’s Call. However, Live from KCRW does its best tracks a big favour, taking them out of context and into the wide open spaces of an increasingly mellow live Seeds sound
‘Higgs Boson Blues’ is rendered less lyrically mannered and more menacing, a strange road movie with its sinister final image, “Miley Cyrus floating in a swimming pool at Toluca Lake”. ‘Wide Lovely Eyes’ is a seaside town requiem, with a driftwood rattle for percussion. ‘Push the Sky Away’ sounds sharper and less produced played live, showing off the brilliant precision of Cave’s mesmerising vocal and creating an epic concert ballad. On the other hand, ‘Mermaids’ with its sniggering “I was the match that would fire up her snatch” vocal, is too silly even for Grinderman.
The Seeds achieve a new level of authority with their measured spaced sound on Live From KCRW, and this is reflected in reinterpretations of some undying Cave classics. No live performance would be complete without ‘The Mercy Seat’, but this time the usual anger is replaced with deep sadness, and backed with piano and violin. ‘People Ain’t No Good’ shines on the back of piano and glockenspiel, while ‘Stranger Than Kindness’ fizzes and smoulders with the help of snares and slide guitar. An intimate atmosphere, with regular audience discussion, culminates in a ‘Jack the Ripper’ encore involving an extensive band debate over the key and chords. When they eventually work it out, Cave throws in everything he’s been holding brilliantly back, ending in a feedback squall.
Live From KCRW is a carefully chosen, expertly produced selection. It tracks the ever- developing live sound of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, showing how the band iterates and progresses its songs on stage, where nothing ever stays the same. If you liked Push the Sky Away you need to hear this; if you weren’t so keen, you still need to hear it.