Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Live From KCRW

Live From KCRW (2013)

B+

1. Higgs Boson Blues 2. Far From Me 3. Stranger Than Kindness 4. The Mercy Seat 5. And No More Shall We Part 6. Wide Lovely Eyes 7. Mermaids 8. People Ain’t No Good 9. Push The Sky Away 10. Jack The Ripper

 

Live At KCRW, the Bad Seeds’ fourth live album, is yet another rich and rewarding testament to Nick Cave’s seemingly innumerable positive qualities as a songwriter, performer, and musical personality: his captivating vocal presence; his almost impossible to believe longevity as an elite songwriter well into his 50s; his legendary lyrical prowess; and most of all, his hitherto untapped ability to not put “The Ship Song” on every goddamned live album he releases.

The funny thing about this little gem is that it avoids many of the pitfalls that plague so many live rock albums album due to the fact that it was not even recorded at a live concert – instead, it was done live in the studio in L.A. for a radio broadcast. Yes, there was a small audience, and yes, they clap and shout out song requests occasionally (like that guy who yells for the old Birthday Party song “Nick The Stripper!” That guy is hilarious! That may have been the only genuinely amusing audience request in rock history. No, I’m sorry, that time you shouted “Freebird!” at that Skynyrd tribute band show you went to eight years ago doesn’t qualify). But they’re nonintrusive. And that’s a good thing! Do artists really think we buy their live albums to hear 10,000 people drunk on $11 Miller Lites going “WOOOOO”? Or to hear the frontman go, “YEAH, HOW YOU DOING CLEVELAND? HOW BOUT THAT LEBRON, HUH?” To hear our favorite songs shouted hoarsely out of tune in service of “capturing the vibe”? I sure don’t. There are plenty of different ways to do a good live album, of course, but all I really want is to hear an artist’s songs interpreted that gives them a new and interesting life apart from their studio versions, whether by rearrangement or volume or energy or whatever. The point is that I want to be able to hear the songs.

That’s why Live At KCRW is such a treat for me – it was recorded in a quiet, controlled setting where the band wasn’t consumed by andrenaline Bob Clearmountain—who engineered all your favorite 80s albums—could actually focus on recording and mixing without worrying about getting a beer thrown at his head. The result is an interesting and immersive exercise in quietude and intimacy that basically sounds like a reprise of No More Shall We Part twelve years after the fact, with its heavy piano focus balanced out by a strong guitar presence, plentiful Warren Ellis violin, and inclusion of “And No More Shall We Part.” Indeed, if it weren’t for all the Push The Sky Away tunes, which fit in fairly well with the No More vibe anyway, I might’ve guessed that the album was culled from a show in 2001 or 2002.

Which is fine with me! I love No More Shall We Part! Even though it’s all slow songs! And I like this one a lot too, even though it features a similar lack of diversity in terms of tempo and energy. (Well, aside from the raging electric run-through of “Jack The Ripper.” I could be a whiny critic and say it “breaks the mood” or some such, but one, it’s the last song so it’s not an interruption so much as an encore, and two it rocks hard so who gives a crap about the mood?). It also showcases a more stripped down version of the Bad Seeds than we’re used, as they left a couple of members at home, leaving Warren Ellis to play an even more central role in the proceedings. This role includes playing all the guitar parts, and he even tears off what must be by far the longest guitar solo in Bad Seeds history during “Mermaids.”

Nick himself stays firmly stationed behind the piano for most of the set, which alternates well-chosen selections from Push The Sky Away (most notably a masterful rendition of “Higgs Boson Blues,” which is even more chillingly atmospheric than the studio version) with older ballads (“And No More Shall We Part,” “Far From Me,” which is cleverer lyrically than I picked up on when it was stuck amongst all those humorless dirges on The Boatman’s Call). The arguable highlight is yet another reinvention of “The Mercy Seat,” which is now a mournful piano lament that sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack of a Holocaust movie directed by Ingmar Bergman. Nick just keeps making that song slower and slower, man. In a few years it’s just gonna be a mumbled gothic beat poetry meditation with some guy playing bongos in the background.

I really like this album. I think it’s arguably the most enjoyable live album the Bad Seeds have ever put out, and really it’s only flaw (other than the almost total lack of uptempo, rocking songs, if that’s your bag) is the presence of fucking “People Ain’t No Good,” one of the most boring songs ever written. Had they chosen almost any other song to take it’s place, Live From KCRW may very well have merited an A-.



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