Pop: The boatman's call to party

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Irving Plaza New York City

NICK CAVE celebrated his 41st birthday last Tuesday night by ending his US tour amid the decaying grandeur of Irving Plaza, a club venue known for its velvet couches and gold-framed mirrors. As the excited Cave faithful queued round the block to claim their vantage points, even the drunk hogging the payphone outside wore a shiny Happy Birthday hat.

The circuitous route by which Americans have come to his Southern Gothickry and Delta Blues (Melbourne-Berlin-London-New York) has given the Bad Seeds two strains of fans. The bulk are cleanish, trendyish white kids in their twenties. But there was a sub-group, flitting impatiently between them; vinyl and crepe covered Goths. Too old and moody for Marilyn Manson, they haven't yet been Gapped and Starbucked and Virgin Megastored out of New York. There remain some basements in the East Village where they work on their pallor by day before releasing themselves on special nights like this.

Cave came on in his customary three-piece suit and cloud of cigarette smoke and slipped in to "Far From Me", one of the sparsest, slowest tracks on The Boatman's Call. His melodramatic baritone, so beautifully buffed- up in the studio on that album, now sounded rougher and more vulnerable. Launching into the blustery "Do You Love Me" got the crowd on his side, and he was soon stripped down to his sweat-drenched white shirt, wagging a presidential finger at the audience.

The cautionary tale, "Red Right Hand", kept everyone moving, and while Mick Harvey's pained solo rose above Blixa Bargeld's guttural bass, Cave strutted about, always on his toes, springing back and forth like a fighter.

Strangely enough, he carried this teeth-grinding aggression through the ballads as well. The mood songs, "Lime Tree Arbor" and "Brompton Oratory", were slightly rushed as he hovered, lurched and bopped, making him look like Martin Amis impersonating Tricky.

It was clear though, that Nick Cave has more classics than he can fit into a Greatest Hits roadshow. Switching back to bone-crunching blues such as "The Mercy Seat" and "From Her To Eternity", he had the audience singing the chorus. All night, birthday gifts were passed forward, including a large bouquet of pink lilies, which he shared with Blixa Bargeld as the portly German filled in for Kylie Minogue on the murder ballad "Where The Wild Rose Grows". Always a prickly customer live, the crowd only once tested Cave's cool by singing "Happy Birthday" just as he was about to launch into "Rose". Being 41 years of age and all, he forgave them.

Touring with six (rather good) Seeds is an extravagance that Nick Cave the artist is prepared to finance, and it paid off during the climax of "Stagger Lee", as the percussionist (he in charge of the Faulknerian tubular bells) battered the cymbals with maracas while Bargeld swamped his mike with primal screams.

The crowd stayed well past the house lights to drag the band back for a second encore, an unfamiliar party-pooper about a woman wearing a plain gold ring. However, the VIP guests upstairs (which included the anti-Goth herself, model Christy Turlington) mobbed the dressing room for the real birthday party.

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