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Monday, June 23, 2014

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds w/ Warpaint @ Milwaukee Theatre

June 20, 2014

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It can be a bit of a sore subject, but there’s no denying that Milwaukee is often frustratingly absent from the touring itineraries of many big-ticket acts. There are plenty of reasonable explanations for that, like the fact that we’re a mid-sized city just a stone’s throw from a major metropolis (though a few more paranoid theories have been put forward over the years), but whatever the case may be, the feeling of being snubbed instantly evaporates whenever a truly high-profile artist deigns to grace our humble burg, replaced by rabid anticipation, and that was certainly the case when legendary Australian iconoclast Nick Cave and his venerable backing band the Bad Seeds announced a tour focusing on secondary markets they’ve rarely appeared in before, with Milwaukee making the list. It was a performance many had long been looking forward to and, thankfully, it proved well worth the wait.

Opening the show was Los Angeles’ Warpaint, who warmed up the crowd with a starkly lit set of disjointed post-post-punk, showing off their new self-titled album but not really getting the reaction they deserved from the audience, which mostly consisted of rapidly aging alternative rockers of every persuasion (old goths are particularly adorable). Perhaps they merely wanted to get right to the main course, as the energy level in the room ramped way up once the lights went out and Cave and company, who had previously only played Milwaukee once and as part of Lollapalooza, took center stage, immediately captivating the crowd with a dramatic rendition of “We No Who U R” from their latest release, last year’s Push the Sky Away. That gave way to a long, hit-heavy set that artfully escalated brooding tension into cathartic eruptions of atonal rock, the fans loving every minute of it. 

Cave is a hypnotically intense presence, sometimes gliding across the stage like an old-fashioned showman, sometimes stalking it like a predator, his trademark sleazy suit proving the perfect attire for either occasion, but the Bad Seeds deserve much of the credit for making such a diverse set seem so cohesive. It was unsurprisingly the classics, “The Mercy Seat,” “Red Right Hand” and an especially vicious “Stagger Lee” among them, that provoked the biggest response, but they slotted seamlessly alongside plenty of Push the Sky Away, such as “Jubilee Street” and the desperate title track, the latter leading to an epic climax that found Cave striding out into the audience for an emotionally charged sing-along, after which an extended encore brought everyone down easy. It may not happen all that often, but that makes it all the more memorable when an artist of Nick Cave’s caliber comes to town.