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The darkness surrounding the music of Nick Cave turns personal on his latest album, Skeleton Tree

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Nick Cave began making last year’s quietly intense Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd.) well before his son Arthur’s tragic fall from a cliff in July 2015, but its brooding tone and crushing, inescapable darkness were clearly heightened by the impact of his passing. The opening couplet on the first song, “Jesus Alone,” features Cave intoning solemnly, “You fell from the sky / Crash landed in a field.” It’s hard not to interpret every line and sound—like the distant cries that emerge at the ends of tracks—as by-products of Cave’s loss. In some sense it’s one of the leanest, most chilled-out records of the singer’s career: the ambient-heavy “Rings of Saturn,” for example, rides on a woozy sonic fabric of restrained synthesizer color bursts as the singer lays bare pure lust in an almost bored sing-speak delivery. The music was crafted with longtime Bad Seed Warren Ellis, who helps conjure an often static, ethereal series of dirgelike settings—precariously balanced between dreamy and nightmarish—all of which are masterfully enhanced by minimalist bass lines played by Martyn Casey, also a Bad Seed. I imagine Cave will play some material from this suffocating but potent effort, but considering his voluminous discography—a good representative sampling of which is included on the recent double-CD set Lovely Creatures—I’m betting the singer’s dramatic instincts will serve a meticulously pitched survey swinging from one extreme to the other. In more than three decades of concertgoing I’ve never seen anyone capable of matching his brooding, concentrated presence.   v

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