Though more stately than one might expect – lacking in the usual bluster of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ oeuvre – Live From KCRW is an assured yet restrained testament to the band as a creative live force.
Live From KCRW kicks off with “Higgs Boson Blues”, the neurotic post-millennial climax to Push The Sky Away. As on record, the dirge gives Cave the chance to voice his nihilistic anxieties by name-checking teenage popstars (“Hannah Montana does the African Savannah/As the simulated rainy season begins”). The muddy guitars underneath are complimented by the deranged cooing of Bad Seeds Warren Ellis, Jim Sculvanos, Martyn Casey and Barry Adamson.
Once the apotheosis of Cave’s biblical mania, “The Mercy Seat” here is a subdued affair. Gone are the clambering guitars, thundering drums and Bad Seed backing rabbles; in their place is one elder statesman of post-punk and his piano. As far as songs about unrepentant inmates on death row go, it’s a surprisingly tender touch.
“People Ain’t No Good” is as heartfelt as it ought to be, with Warren Ellis’ violin punctuating Cave’s world-weary observations about people being inherently rubbish. “It ain’t that in their hearts their bad/They’d stick by you if they could”, Cave croons, before the kicker: “But that’s just bullshit/People just ain’t no good.”
The standout here is on Push The Sky Away’s eponymous final track. Eerie synths and ghostly backing vocals intertwine on a song manages to be at once moving and unsettling. As the refrain “You’ve gotta keep on pushing/keep on pushing/push the sky away” swirls around, another lyric from the song resonates with particular clarity: “Some people say that it’s just rock ‘n’ roll/But it gets you right down to your soul”.
As the album plays out, lip service is paid to the stark, maniacal wing of the Bad Seeds bird on final track “Jack The Ripper”. The anarchic synths and squalling guitars frame Cave’s startling images of vipers “hissing under the floorboards/Hangin’ down in bunches from my roof.” As on the tour in support of Push The Sky Away, this live record feautures no songs from the garage-rock throwback Dig Lazarus Dig!!!: handlebar moustaches aren’t welcome here. It is refreshing then, after nine tracks of dignified musicianship, to hear the Bad Seeds cut loose and make a racket.
Also notable by its absence is “Jubilee Street”. Live the song remains one of Push The Sky Away‘s most rambunctious moments as it accelerates and crescendos until the band is spent. It is likely that the reduced line-up of the Bad Seeds for this recording – the usual eight-piece is trimmed to a leaner five – influenced the decision to omit the album’s centerpiece, but it is nonetheless missed.
So, a live album representative of a tour representative of the fifteenth studio album by one of alternative music’s most enduring and influential icons. Those who like their Bad Seeds really bad may be disappointed with the tracklisting, but what stands true with this release is that Cave can be at his most powerful when at his most soulful.