Nick Cave’s new rock concert is a stunning testament to the live music experience

Courtesy of Nick Cave’s website

There’s a wonderful moment, near the end of the concert film Distant Sky, when a horde of fans who’d been in the front rows at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen during a performance of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, late last year, are invited to join the band on the stage for the encore.

You almost wonder if Cave knew this concert was being filmed, or something. =)

As the Bad Seeds played “Push the Sky Away”, the finale of their three-song encore, Cave became transfixed by a portly young man who’d made it up onto the stage.

When Cave shouted an invitational Are you READY!?! to the audience, this young man made a point of registering in Cave’s sightline, and responded with an equal level of vehemence: Are you READY?!?

At first, Cave appeared nonplussed by the young man’s vehemence. Then, combative: Was this wanker winding him up? Maybe, I thought, it was simple; this was all part of the act. Whatever the case, it turned into one of the most poignant sequences, for me, I’ve seen captured on film so far this year—in large part because of a delectably dexterous bit of choreography by Cave during this tête a tête.

They circled each other like the main characters in the climactic scene of a spaghetti western. Then came the kicker: Cave invoking And some people say it’s just rock and roll / Ah but it gets right down to your soul, that eternal couplet from “Push the Sky Away”. His eyes never left the young man as he uttered the lyrics.

I’d never seen a performer interact with the audience to the extent that Cave did (and, as I learned through perusal of several other concert videos, does): but apart from the finale, with that young man, it was most striking for me during Bad Seeds’ rendition of “Jubilee Street”, which I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I saw the concert film on Thursday.

Darting between the stage and the piano, where Cave played the haunting melody that punctuates Jubilee Street’s refrain, I noticed Cave would shoot withering glances at the audience before hitting the keys. It was a combative look that, I learned, was totally in keeping with his early days at the helm of the band Birthday Party, whose main purpose, , “was to terrify the audience into submission.”

It was as much an exhortation as a diagnosis, a taking of the pulse from these people around him: he simply wanted to make sure you were paying attention. With how much he was giving that night (see: sweat-drenched head seeking towel in concert photo, above), I can hardly blame him.

It’s why he is so fastidious about touching hands of audience members throughout the performance, and it lent a very special sort of credence to his surgical strike of a diatribe of Instagram, during a slight aside to a song.

Many artists have done similar castigations, as they stare out at a sea of LCD lights held aloft, lamenting the fact that people are experiencing a concert through the flat frame of their phone, their minds captivated by the calamine lotion those “likes” and “favorites” will provide as they incessantly refresh their home screen.

With Cave, however, there was an added resonance. Even seen through a film theater screen, this was a special performance. I found myself growing increasingly annoyed with the sea of phones with which the filmmakers were forced to contend. I found myself, in one of those divine moments of clarity, remembering that I’ve been as guilty of sin of wielding my phone aloft at a concert.

I want to document the performances I attend, I want to showcase it to my followers on my social media accounts, so that…what, exactly. And this is the point. Afterwards, I can never quite define what I sought in holding my phone aloft, an act that, in conjunction with the thousands of other phones held aloft, rises into a terrible force that, to quote a Gorillaz lyric, Kills the (Feel Good) Inc.

Something Cave said to this effect resonated, however. The post does not matter. Not really. It is a sad statement if I need it to verify my existence, in some way.

So I thought about this, and so many other things in my own slice of saudade, as the film clocked in at a shade over two hours, returning in its end to the image of a distant horizon as the end credits began to roll. This was a journey, one I hope to experience in person somewhere along the line.

And I won’t be bringing my phone with me. There’s simply too much I might miss.

One of Cave’s most haunting songs, also on the setlist at the Copenhagen show

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops

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