She was given to me to put things right
And I stacked all my accomplishments beside her
Still I seemed so obsolete and small
I found God and all His devils inside her
In my bed she cast the blizzard out
A mock sun blazed upon her head
So completely filled with light she was
Her shadow fanged and hairy and mad
Our love-lines grew hopelessly tangled
And the bells from the chapel went jingle-jangle
-Nick Cave, “Do You Love Me?”
July 7th – San FranciscoAfter meeting up with my great friend Todd on Sunday night in San Francisco and getting to relive every moment of my incredible series of interactions with Nick Cave at the Portland and San Francisco airports in the retelling of my story to him, we set out to spend the next day exploring the city we both used to live in. In fact, San Francisco is the city where we first saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live back in 1989 on the Tender Prey tour, so it was a sort of homecoming on many levels. While I was still reeling from all that had happened on this trip already, I also realized I was only two shows into my tour and still had a lot to look forward to.
It didn’t take long at all before my surreal life-on-tour started up again. Todd and I were wandering around the revitalized Hayes Valley neighborhood while searching for a particular must-try coffee shop when we turned a corner and practically ran into Bad Seeds guitarist George Vjestica. I didn’t say anything to him; I just couldn’t. I don’t know if he recognized me, but we walked right past him as I started giggling like a school girl and dragged Todd into the first open shop we could find to hide. You would think I would have learned by now but I clearly just don’t do well in these spontaneous Bad Seed meetings. What a bizarre coincidence to run into a member of the band in a random San Francisco neighborhood. Were there other Bad Seeds in the midst? Were they stalking me now?
After some deep breaths, and a few minutes pretending we were actually looking at the items for sale in the shop, we composed ourselves and walked back out onto the street. George was now sitting outside a café with a cup of coffee. He seemed to be appreciating the downtime and we walked right past him on our way to get the coffee we came for. After all this, I was almost glad that there were no more sightings for the rest of the afternoon.
Later that night, we headed to the show at the Warfield Theatre. We had general admission tickets and it was a packed house early on but we easily managed to get close to the stage, just a couple of rows back from its edge. It was probably the friendliest group of fans I’ve ever been around. Everybody was chatting with one other, sharing Nick Cave stories, comparing what shows we all had been to or were going to – all in a friendly, non-competitive way. When I talked about my flight with the band, everyone seemed genuinely excited for me. There was camaraderie among the fans and the vibe was great. I could tell there was going to be fantastic energy from this crowd before the show even began.
It was the final night with Mark Lanegan opening and it was a pleasure to see him for the third time on this tour. Once the Bad Seeds took the stage, aside from another “Weeping Song” duet with Mark Lanegan, there were no real deviations in the set list from the Seattle and Portland shows, but it seemed there was even more energy from both the crowd and band alike, if that could even be possible. Maybe it was our proximity to the stage and the general congeniality of the audience, but the band was on fire and seemed as if they might explode into a million sparks of light that would float through the theater to be taken home as souvenirs by the audience. A whirling dervish of pent-up energy, late-night fantasies, and forbidden violent thoughts, it was a perfect example of what you want a rock and roll show to be with Nick preaching and swaggering while the sweat from his face dripped onto his worshippers as he cantilevered out over the audience from the stage, putting all his trust in his fans to literally support him. The band did a whopping four encores and it felt like they might go on all night if the venue would have let them.
After the show Todd and I found ourselves outside waiting for Nick along with twenty-five or so other fans, and once again there was more great camaraderie and an experience that alone was worth the wait. It’s a rare treat to be around so many like-minded folks. We all proselytize to get new converts, and I’ve had a few successes over the years, but this is a band you either get or you don’t; there’s not a lot of room for indifference. The music is genre-defying and the lyrics often paint a picture that you may wish you’d never seen. Not everyone can embrace that sort of brutal scrutiny of humanity accompanied by a sometimes questionable sense of humor, so when you meet others that do there’s an instant bond.
Security didn’t seem to know what to do with us. First we were all huddled together with no barriers, then we were told to line up behind a barricade, then we were moved within the barricade. We didn’t know how this was going to work, or if Nick would even come out, but we seemed to be at the exit from backstage, all the band’s gear and buses were lining the street, and no one was telling us to leave.
Finally, Nick made his appearance. In a change of clothes and looking refreshed he was corralled into the barricaded area with his fans. He proceeded to take photos and chat for a minute with every single person there. While he was taking photos with another fan, we locked eyes and I got a special “hello.” I was relieved that he recognized me. On one hand, I’d made such a fool of myself the previous day and was embarrassed to see him; but on the other hand, in the end I had a good story that he seemed to really appreciate, and I would have been disappointed if he didn’t remember me just this once. I then had the opportunity to take some additional photos with him, and when he was done meeting with all the other waiting fans he walked past me again, shook my hand, and said goodbye. It was a perfect ending to another incredible day on tour.
July 8th – San FranciscoOriginally there was only one show announced in San Francisco, but a second for the following night was added and, of course, we immediately purchased tickets. That day we were joined by Todd’s friend Chester, who also lives in LA, and who I had met back in 2003 at a NC&TBS concert at the Hollywood Palladium. That show was in support of Nocturama and was part of a very limited five-city North American tour. My main recollection was how awful the sound was and that if I hadn’t known the songs I would have no idea what I was hearing. It was also the one previous time I had met Nick Cave. That particular night we waited with a small group of fans after the show for what seemed like eternity until he finally came out. It was a very brief meeting; we shook hands, I told him it was a great show (yes, I said this despite the sound issue), and that was that as he was whisked away in a black car. This was before the days when everyone carried pocket-sized cameras on them at all times. The other thing I remember from that show was how much I liked Chester, and there was an easy rapport upon our reunion as I again had the opportunity to relive all the drama of the past couple of days. There were no Bad Seeds sightings while we were exploring the city on a beautiful, sunny day, but there was another great show in store for us at the Warfield that night.
Mark Lanegan was finished with his portion of the tour and Jonathan Richman opened the show. While I’ve been a fan of his quirky songs for years, I felt the theater was too grand for him and drummer Tommy Larkins. He also chose not to do any of his older songs which I respect, but I had a feeling that if he threw out at least a few, they would have made for a more enthusiastic crowd. I know I was carrying a secret fantasy of hearing a duet between him and Nick Cave singing “Vampire Girl”; still, he held his own in the already packed venue with his charming songs and boyish smile.
Of course, Nick Cave was the reason everyone was there, and similar to the other shows the band came out to the rolling bass lines of “We Real Cool.” Since they were playing the same venue two nights in a row I wondered if they’d make some set changes. It’s nearly impossible for me to state which Bad Seeds record is my favorite, and it changes with the years, my mood, and what’s going on in my life, but when push comes to shove I generally would say it’s Let Love In. Whether I stick with that or not – right now Henry’s Dream and Push the Sky Away are contenders for the position – it was clear the audience was excited to hear “Do You Love Me?” – especially as the answer from everyone there would be a resounding “yes!” Nick has a way of appealing to men and women alike, both on an intellectual level as well as a physical one. On one hand, he’s a true man’s man; a macho Western outlaw with lyrics that are often violent, gritty, and not for the squeamish. On the other hand, in a recent New York Times interview he said, “I have a female audience in my mind when I write.”
In that same article, 20,000 Days on Earth co-director Iain Forsyth said, “People want desperately to enter the world Nick creates in his songs. You can look around when the Bad Seeds are playing and see precisely which version of Nick – the junkie, the outlaw, the lover – each person in the crowd wants to be.” Or, I would argue, which version they want Nick to be. And whichever version that is, it’s the genuine passion, energy, and sexuality that Nick exudes in a live performance that turns fans into worshippers. So many articles compare Nick to an evangelist – and I’m guilty of it too even though it’s become a cliché – but when you’ve witnessed the Bad Seeds live, you find it’s a natural comparison. Nick Cave is mesmerizing, charismatic, and articulate, and he uses his entire body to convey his stories. In the moment, you know he has become the characters he sings about, and the audience believes that he is their savior.
The remaining surprises of the night happened when Nick was at the piano. He made a big departure at this show with “People Ain’t No Good,” “The Ship Song,” and most surprising of all “Watching Alice,” from the Tender Prey record. The audience was swooning.
After the show, I contemplated waiting outside for him and asking him to sign my boarding pass but it seemed overkill to try and meet him again. I already had a couple of amazing Nick Cave experiences and I really didn’t want to be that fan who doesn’t know when to stop. Besides, this way I could imagine that he was looking for me after the show and wondering where I was. (Okay, I know he didn’t give me a second thought, but a girl can dream.)
The next show was in Los Angeles in two days. I figured the band would be flying out of San Francisco the following day, and I felt relieved that I wouldn’t be flying out until the day after. I don’t think I could handle another close encounter with the band, and instead looked forward to having a day to try to recover from all the excitement and get ready for the shows ahead.
July 11th – Los AngelesI was joined by Craig on my first night in LA to see a special screening of 20,000 Days on Earth, but what the screening meant to me was that my Nick Cave tour was about to come to a close, and it was a bittersweet thought. I had one show left, which I was looking forward to, but it would also be my last on this tour and would put me in Nick Cave purgatory, where I’m still overly excited about seeing the band – and I had a lot to be excited about on this tour – but also where the fear, depression, and worry sets in that I’ll never get to see them again. Unfortunately, this last show also ended up being an anger-inducing experience that had me declaring I would never go back to Los Angeles again. And for the record, I am originally from Los Angeles and am no stranger to the City of Angels.
After fighting traffic, pretentious waitstaff at our pre-show dinner, more traffic again, and then throngs of people, we made it to our third row seats. “Third row” sounds great, but there was a small pit in front of the stage, which set us back a bit further than we expected, and clearly the pit was going to get all the attention. Still, the seats were fantastic and we couldn’t have a better view of the stage. Despite already feeling exhausted by the effort to get to the show, I was still excited and highly anticipating the last one of my tour.
Former home to the Academy Awards, the Shrine Auditorium is a beautiful theater but it felt too big even before the show began. It’s not that the band can’t fill a large venue; their sound is immense and can seep into every last nook and cranny available. But their performances feel better suited to a more intimate space. Once things began, it was clear the stage itself was too large for them, keeping the band members further apart from one another than usual in order to try to fill the physical space. Nick even remarked when they first came out how high up the stage was from the floor.
That didn’t deter them from once again putting on a high energy show, but I was distracted. Audience members constantly came and went filling up their plastic cups of beer like they were at a sporting event. A couple next to us kept taking selfies and texting to their friends. And then there was the groping threesome directly in front of us, who left me wondering why they even bothered to come to the show at all. They could have spent their hard-earned money elsewhere, and while I did my best to ignore the incessant talking and groping around me and focus on the band – the reason I was there – it was too much. I was getting angry, and knowing that this was the final show of my tour made me even angrier. Every show I’d seen up to this point had respectful and friendly audiences, but this night left me feeling like I was the only one there for the right reason.
Of course, I know this isn’t true at all, but my anger and frustration were taking over my ability to revel in this last opportunity. It seemed like a fluke that the band toured the States two years in a row, and I worried it might be another five years before they would come back. I know I was absolutely privileged to see as many shows as I did, but I was feeling greedy and wanted more.
My anger at the show wasn’t the band’s fault – they delivered 100 percent. Nick ranted and raved while Warren Ellis threw his violin bows high above the stage, reminding me of a bearded cupid shooting arrows at prospective lovers. There were two runways jutting out from the stage into the pit where Nick spent a lot of his time screaming, whispering, and clinging to the fans around him. I have no doubt the energy was real; I was just in some black hole of Hollywood wannabes that probably got their tickets comped and didn’t even know who they were seeing.
The set followed a very similar order as the previous shows. Nick did leave the confines of the stage and the pit and, once again walking on the backs of chairs and shoulders of his fans, made his way several rows behind us during the emphatic, frightening, and still somehow sexy “Stagger Lee.” After the final song, “Push the Sky Away,” they came back out to perform five encore songs, the highest number I’d seen at any show to date. To that end, from the band’s point of view the crowd and the show must have been a success. Sadly, I just wanted to get away from the insincere group I found myself surrounded by. I had so many amazing experiences and memories from this tour, and while this last show will cast a dark cloud on my experience, it seemed the best thing was to get away as far as possible and let it recess back into the dark warehouse of repressed memories.So with the end of my tour, I want to thank Nick Cave and the entire band for an amazing experience. I got to revel in the live power of the Bad Seeds five times in little more than a week, and meet my idol in person, not just after a show but in the unique experience of sharing a flight. But it was more than that. It was a revitalization of my spirit and a step out of my mid-life funk. My feelings tie in well with the context of 20,000 Days on Earth, and perhaps Nick and I are at a similar contemplative time in our lives. It was a fun and carefree experience to follow my favorite band on tour, but it was also a thoughtful and introspective time for me, and I felt a wide range of highs and lows. I hardly slept the entire time, and I was nervous, excited, and always on the verge of wondering how I was going to get through it all. And I was also thinking about the next time. While I know that some experiences will be once in a lifetime, I don’t believe in the idea of making that determination while you are still living. So here’s to the next tour and the next time we meet, Mr. Cave.