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Nick Cave channels his raucous past in SMU show

Posted 7:19am on Friday, Mar. 15, 2013

Over the last three decades, Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave has moved from being a post-punk l’enfant terrible with such bands as The Boys Next Door and the Birthday Party to a darkly romantic balladeer with a brooding baritone whose moody music fits in comfortably with the likes of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits.

But at an intensely visceral sold-out performance at SMU’s McFarlin Hall Thursday night -- the second date of his current US tour -- Cave, 55, showed he still has a little of the l’enfant left in him. Early in the set, he even barked at an usher to stay away from a lone dancing fan, immediately prompting the seated audience to stand, cheer, and rush the stage.

Dressed in a black suit and white shirt and prowling the stage with a twitchy, nervous energy, Cave emphasized his heavier side in the 100-minute, 17-song set as he and his eight-piece Bad Seeds (including two back-up singers) tore through the swamp-rock stories of Papa Won’t Leave You Henry, Red Right Hand, God Is in the House, and an especially frenetic Stagger Lee.

What links all of Cave’s work is an outsider’s interest in Southern Gothic literature, the Bible, and backwoods blues. That came across Thursday as Cave glared at the audience like a preacher in front of a crowd of sinners.

Even the songs from his somber new album, Push the Sky Away, took on a more aggressive attitude. Jubilee Street for example, exploded into a torrent of well-channeled fury.

The drawback was that he didn’t do many of his more restrained, elegant songs, like the graceful Into My Arms. But that’s a minor complaint. Cave may not still be possessed by the demons of his youth but, judging from this show, he still doesn’t want to go out quietly.

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