You had to wonder what was going through the minds of the 19-piece children's choir as they stood on stage at the renowned Massey Hall to sing "Jubilee Street." Had they visited YouTube to check out the song's video starring Ray Winstone as a john getting serviced from a, ahem, lady of the night? Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds might not be the first act you'd expect a fifth or sixth grader to play for, but for the sold-out crowd, having the kids from Rose Avenue Junior Public School there made it a night to remember. And no, they took a breather when the band performed "Stagger Lee."
Getting the opportunity to witness the Bad Seeds at the esteemed Massey Hall alone was a monumental occasion, but the weathered Aussies pulled out all of the stops. Along with the choir, which also featured opening act Sharon Van Etten, came a modest string section featuring local wunderkind Owen Pallett, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Sophie Trudeau and three others during the two-hour set.
Beginning with the opening couple from new album Push the Sky Away, Cave moved like a possessed man on fire, kicking the air and jumping, while reaching into the audience to hold hands of his devoted. His versatility as a frontman found him hopping on and off the piano for a few chords effortlessly. Every now and then he'd check in on the choir, asking, "Y'all right, kids?" like a responsible host. At the same time, he could slip into that prickly reputation of his, naturally slipping a threat into "Higgs Boson Blues" to a "fuckin' photographer" or humiliating a guy drinking in the front row. His partner Warren Ellis entertained with similar gusto, shredding his violin and Fender Duo-Sonic with equal force, while "conducting" the strings with a handful of fist-pumping motions.
Bidding farewell to the choir by saying, "See ya kids! And don't steal the headsets," Cave and the Bad Seeds covered their biggest hits, from "Red Right Hand" and "The Ship Song," to "From Her to Eternity" and a version of "The Mercy Seat" that left everyone feeling abused. It was "Stagger Lee," of course, that left everyone in awe, as Cave ad-libbed, "Here comes the devil with a fuckin' iPhone in his hand," a reference to the constant technology shoved in his face.
Closing with 1985's "Tupelo," Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds brought down the house to a standing ovation people and some die-hards bowing down with praise. For many people, it was one of the best gigs they'd seen this year and possibly even one of the best they'd ever seen. Myself included.
To see Exclaim!'s Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds photo gallery, courtesy of Fil ZuZarte, head here.