Sharon Van Etten performing in Boston on the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds tour. Photo courtesy of xrayspx.
There were two things likely to happen on the last night eve of the three-show, same-venue run that was in the middle of a 19-date tour with Nick Cave. The artists, exhausted from playing yet another night in the enormous Beacon Theatre, could’ve given an earnest, but tired show, ready to pack up and finally move on to a new city. Or, infused with energy from it being the last hurrah for a third sold out show in New York, they could’ve resolved to deliver a dynamic, striking performance.
From the audience, there was no way to gauge the mood backstage of the musicians in the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Sharon Van Etten tour. But Cave definitely gave his fans their money’s worth after a five-year hiatus from touring. And Sharon Van Etten, though only petite in stature, filled the entire Beacon Theatre with her lush and sultry voice, hushing the audience into reverence before Cave took the stage.
Backed by only drummer Zeke Hutchins, Van Etten alternated between playing stripped down versions of songs from her last LP, Tramp, a few songs from older albums, and one new track. Van Etten, seasoned from essentially touring since the Feb 2012 release of Tramp, gave a graceful and demure performance, despite the pressure involved with opening for such an anticipated return on Cave’s part.
Between songs she would charm the audience with her own humble quips. “It can be hard if people don’t appreciate what you’re doing,” she said at one point, “I know most of you are here to see Nick Cave, and I just wanted to say thank you.” Audience members contradicted this dismissal, shouting encouraging support.
Admittedly, I was there to see Van Etten as much as Cave. Her raw, emotive songs have made her my favorite musician to cover on guitar. So, my only (and largest complaint of the night,) was how short her set was — merely 30 minutes.
I guess the length of Nick Cave’s full set, lasting nearly two hours, necessitated the brevity of the opener’s act though. Van Etten did return to the stage as backing vocals for almost the entirety of the headlining set as well.
When Cave sauntered on to the stage, it became immediately obvious that something special was in store. The entire seated audience rose to their feet, where they remained throughout the rest of the show. Impressive would be an understatement of an adjective to describe Cave’s eight piece backing band, including the Shilpa Ray string ensemble, in conjunction with the Harlem Voices youth choir. Over 20 people took the stage with Cave, many alternating instruments throughout the entire performance.
It’s obvious that Cave’s appearance still possesses the prowess and sensibilities of a true entertainer; deep-cut shirt, gold chain, signature hair, and all. Both he and his full accompaniment were full of energy, particularly Warren Ellis, of the Dirty Three, who was as animated as Cave himself, switching from flute to guitar, to conducting, to violin, and back again.
The set began with several tracks off Push the Sky Away before Cave slyly mumbled, “let me tell you about a girl,” before the whole band launched into “From Her to Eternity,” and a list of older hits, such as “Red Right Hand,” “Into My Arms,” and “The Weeping Song.”
Cave’s visual charisma and vocal talent alongside the supporting musicians’ dexterity and full harmony provided an engaging, encompassing experience as the music resounded through the Beacon Theatre.
A renaissance man, Cave has certainly kept busy since his Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! release of 2008, publishing a second novel, putting out a record with Grinderman, scoring a handful of soundtracks with Warren Ellis, and authoring a screenplay for a major motion picture.
Saturday’s headlining performance fluctuated between conscious restraint and explosive outbursts of vigor, which was complimented perfectly by Van Etten’s heart-breakingly sincere open. It was a thoughtful combination, apt of Cave’s professional reputation for quality. Hopefully he won’t make us all wait five more years.