Yesterday afternoon we caved and bought tickets for that night’s Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds show in Budapest. First we found the the tickets bit out of range at $73, so we waited till the day of the show to purchase them at 75%, when people started to sell them off. First reaction after getting down to the moshpit a few minutes before the music started was a sense of pity. The house was not even half full. My half-Polish fiancee mentioned that in Poland it must have sold out. I was feeling empathy for the artists wondering how does it feel for them to play at less than full house. They, headed by Nick Cave, of course ended up being not just professional (i.e. playing a full set), but enthusiastic too.
I have to admit I haven’t been listening to his much the last few years, but between 1990 and 1995 he was on heavy rotation in my CD player. (I bought his first few CDs at Berkeley’s Amoeb store and out of my first 20 CDs ever 2 or 3 was from him.) His live show reminded me of the poetic quality of his lyrics. I remembered the biblical and lyrical tone, but the variety of topics, ambiances and nuances amazed me this night. I also think he is less of a singer in the traditional sense (meaning a wide range of vocals and singing technique) and more of a storyteller and performer. He was super at that as I experienced in person last night. I think his vocabulary must be at least the double of an average English speaking person.
I enjoyed the show’s lighting was great and the stage design in it its simplicity. They had one big canvas behind the band and two smaller on the side. For most of the show they projected Cave or the band live there. I noticed that during the first song the video was black and white, while in later songs they added more grays too. Color never became part of the picture, or maybe I am just too colorbind to see it. The background screen only showed other images than the band during a few songs. In one of them it was an abandoned pier, that I happily recognized from Brighton. Then during the next song we were tormented (in a good way) by destructive visions of a tropical storm. The last thing I want to mention regarding the visuals was the first thing I noticed: a sign on the side of piano saying “smoking melting boiling burning“, which are the key words from his 1988 song, The Mercy Seat. These really set the tone.
I believe that performing artists feed of the audiences energy and I mean it in the most positive way. It was rather visible that he enjoyed being adored by fans, most of the time. The hands that extended towards from sometimes touching, more often not, gave him the energy that he must crave. There are two reasons this didn’t create a negative reaction in me is two fold, but first I have to explain why would it at all. I don’t like energy trolls in the internet, whose main purpose (unless they have other more hidden agendas) is to suck energy out from their conversation partners. This is a behavior that is best handled by not engaging with them. Artists can behave like internet trolls, i.e. live of the audiences’ energy. The big difference is that Cave was personable. He gave/reflected it all back to the audience. He truly gifted us and everyone in the audience this night with his presence, energy, songs and care. He is an international superstar and at the same time a genuine human being.
The best, albeit unfortunate examples for this is what happened towards the end of the evening. For the last 2-3 songs he invited dozens of people from the audience on stage and interacted with theme even more. I was close to the stage, but not close enough to be one of the selected few. However close enough to see that someone was taken out to the side, horizontally lifted by 6-7 people. It was obvious that something happened to that person and needed medical attention. After the last song, and before a supposed encore there was a longer than usual break. Finally Cave came out alone, visible chocked, looking for words. This was the first time when he seemed lost that night. Then he told us that a woman has fallen off the stage, he doesn’t know how she was and under the circumstances he could not play any more. This was just a genuine moment; not everyone would have been capable or even inclined to feel/show this level of empathy. Kudos to the audience, who after having waited for so long for an encore accepted that the night is over. People felt disappointed by the lack of ritual closure, but also satisfied that they saw a great concerts. Houselights came on and we started to walk slowly out. We were already outside the room, trying to find the exit on the corridor, when we heard Cave’s voice saying that she (the fallen person) is OK. Then he asked the technicians whether they already unplugged the instruments. They did not, so after one by one all the other band members were enticed back to stage we got 2 more hit songs, providing perfect crescendo for the evening.
Thank you Nick, the band members and my ever-spontaneous fiancee, without whom I would’t have seen one of the greatest bands existing today.