Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Austin City Limits taping
July 20, 2014
by Mr. S.
In the upcoming documentary 20,000 Days On Earth, Nick Cave discusses his love for performing live, but indicates that he loves to focus on a small handful of people from the front row and frighten them. Hardcore fans of the Bad Seeds are not easily scared, but this revelation did make me curious about how his taping in the Austin City Limits studio would go on Sunday night. The perimeter of the stage is typically roped off to provide room for the camera operators to capture the performance, keeping the audience at a slight distance.
When we walked into the venue for the taping, there was a major change to the way that the stage was set up. Two small runways were jutting out from the front of the normal stage. Two cameras normally set up directly in front of the stage were moved back to risers near the soundboard. Two camera crane operators were also positioned further back than normal. It gave us a great vantage point from where we were sitting and made me even more excited to see how the set would unfold.
As the band emerged on to the stage, Mr. Cave almost immediately took advantage of the runways. From where we were sitting, it looked as though he was floating into the crowd. The set started off with “We Real Cool” and “Jubilee Street”, two back-to-back songs from the band’s most recent album Push The Sky Away. Cave strutted around, punctuating the lyrics with the brazen demeanor of a preacher warning his flock of the fire and brimstone they’re facing. The first sign that the band would be digging deeper into their catalog came when they started to play “Tupelo,” their 1985 single from The Firstborn Is Dead. One of the band’s most recognizable songs, 1994’s “Red Right Hand” shook the venue next, getting louder and moodier as it went on.
Cave’s first real attempt at banter came as he introduced “Mermaids” off of Push The Sky Away. He noted that the song would not make the television broadcast because of the lyric “I was the match that would fire up her snatch,” the logic of which seemed a little odd only because he had previously improvised a very loud ‘motherfucker’ during “Red Right Hand.” Feeding off the energy from the crowd pressed up against the stage, Cave became visibly annoyed by the rest of the audience who were seated quietly throughout the set. He tried to wave people from the stands down onto the floor, perhaps unaware that the only free space left at stage level was closed off for the cameras and crew members, chastising those of us who were seated as “lazy fuckers.”
The band dug a little deeper as the set continued, pulling out the title track to their 1984 debut album From Her To Eternity and both “Love Letter” and “God Is In The House” from 2001’s No More Shall We Part. One of the highlights in the documentary 20,000 Days On Earth is footage from a performance of “Higgs Boson Blues,” a dreamlike dirge that somehow manages to reference Robert Johnson and Miley Cyrus. It was a great success during the taping as well, enrapturing the crowd gathered at his feet as well as those who looked down more reverently from the balconies above. It paired nicely with “The Mercy Seat”, a 1988 single that is one of the band’s most iconic tunes.
What happened next caused a few truly frightened folks to flee early, but it was one of the highlights of the night for me. “Stagger Lee” originally appeared on 1996’s Murder Ballads and it is a traditional song that has been performed over the years by everybody from Pat Boone to the Black Keys. It’s safe to say that Nick Cave’s version is the most profane and wicked of them all. If “Mermaids” was somehow questionable for making it into the broadcast, the recorded footage of “Stagger Lee” is likely to be locked in a vault for all eternity. Cave continued to cavort between the two stage runways through the number, which has to be the most offensive song to ever be performed during a taping in the history of Austin City Limits. It was a few minutes in by the time he got to the lyrics “I’m a bad motherfucker, don’t you know and I’ll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get one fat boy’s asshole." By that moment, the crowd had thinned out a touch.
The die hard audience members went wild by the song’s conclusion and then we headed into what turned out to be the final song of the night, the title track to Push The Sky Away. There were visible indications that Cave continued to be annoyed by the audience (or other unknown factors) by the end of the song and the band waved goodbye, walking off stage. For a few tense moments, it seemed as though the crew was prepping for an encore, but then the chance of that happening ended almost as quickly as it began. The house lights came up and the show was officially over.
All-in-all, this incredible performance lasted for 90 solid minutes. Even though there are at least two fairly lengthy tracks that will need to be edited out of the final broadcast, that should still leave plenty for producers to work with. Here’s hoping that it turns into a full hour-long episode when it airs this fall as part of the show’s 40th season on PBS, likely around the same time that Drafthouse Films releases 20,000 Days On Earth into select theaters nationwide.