Nick Cave brings his rock cred

Posted: July 29, 2014

As he moved across a thrust stage that cut a semicircle through the first several rows of the crowd at the Mann Center on Friday night, Nick Cave looked from the middle distance like an astronaut venturing into deepest space, his only tether the microphone cord that fans passed from hand to hand like a sacred object.

Over a two-hour set with his longtime band, the Bad Seeds, he only went farther out.

In recent years, Cave has adopted sobriety, and he now puts in eight-hour days at his writing desk when he's not raising twin teenage boys. But the stable lifestyle hasn't mellowed him one iota. Quite the contrary, in fact: Whatever demons he might once have kept at bay with drugs and alcohol now find their way into his songs, where music and the devil are evenly matched.

"Here comes Lucifer," Cave sang in "Higgs-Boson Blues." "He got the real killer groove. Robert Johnson and the devil - don't know who's gonna rip off who."

Last year's Push the Sky Away was already one of the better albums of Cave's storied career, but the songs were more tense and ferocious live. "Jubilee Street" built on a slow-burning groove and then exploded in a hail of noise as the story of a blackmailing prostitute dissolved into an anthem of transcendence.

"I'm transforming, I'm vibrating," he sang. "Look at me now."

In a black suit and shirt open nearly to the waist, Cave seemed like the last of the true rock stars, a role he inhabits deliberately but without irony or self-consciousness.

Kurt Vile, who with his band the Violators jumped ahead of Cave's tour-mate Nicole Atkins to play second on the bill, was a more inward-looking presence, his face hidden behind long, shaggy hair. But his voice made surprising leaps as he went from a low-register mumble to a falsetto whoop that cut through the air under the Mann roof, exploring places his body couldn't go.

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