Performing Monday night (Sept. 29) at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre, Nick Cave repeatedly leaned into the crowd, pointing his finger and intoning his lyrics like some mad preacher. Cave, an Australian-born singer-songwriter with some 20 albums, is not the only rock musician who borrows stage moves from old-style evangelists — the sort who shouted the word of God in revival tents and inspired their followers to speak in tongues. Cave is a scary sort of preacher, and he prowled the stage with barely concealed sexual energy, his white shirt completely drenched with sweat.
It was a remarkably fiery performance by Cave, who came to Chicago with his stellar backup band, the Bad Seeds, to promote his latest record, “Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!” Although Cave has been making music for almost three decades, he shows no signs of flagging energy or creativity. In fact, he’s on a hot streak right now, with several top-notch albums in a row.
In addition to his music, Cave has written novels and screenplays, proving his literary talent. And many of his songs are practically bursting with witty, dense and profane words, which Cave tosses out with wild abandon. Before launching into one of the best songs on his new album, “We Call Upon the Author,” Cave gave a classy nod to Chicago literature, dedicated the song to legendary local author Nelson Algren.
With two drummers, guitar, bass, keyboards and few other assorted instruments, the Bad Seeds deftly covered the gamut of Cave’s musical styles Monday, from brooding Gothic rock and hard-charging punk to piano ballads and gospel. Cave played songs from throughout his career, including fan favorites from his early days such as “Red Right Hand” and “Deanna” and more recent tunes like “Get Ready for Love.”
Cave’s outing last year with a side project called Grinderman seems to have inspired him to play guitar more often, and he picked up the instrument several times Monday night, casually cranking out some loud chords. Cave also went back to the piano for one song, “God Is in the House,” bringing the raucous concert down to a hush as he whispered the line “If we could all hold hands and shout … hallelujah!”
Cave closed his encore with “Stagger Lee,” his updated version of the old blues song about a killer. Leaning over the crowd one more time, Cave began to clap his hands slowly to the beat, with a swaggering swing in his arms. By now, his shirt was practically translucent with perspiration. The crowd clapped along with Cave, and then he leapt back onto the stage and let loose a blood-curdling scream.
Leaving the stage, Cave let the audience know how long they’ll have to wait to see him again in Chicago. “See you in a couple of years,” he said. Cave’s acolytes will have trouble waiting that long. An enthusiastic female bartender at the Riviera, who’d experienced a Nick Cave concert for the first time on the previous night, proclaimed, “I’ve discovered God, and he wears a mustache!”
My review is also up at the Southtown Star’s Web site.