- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2003

CHICAGO — For the first time since 1992, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds skipped Washington on one of their infrequent — and usually brief — North American tours.

This month’sseven-date trek, which ended Wednesday night with a show at New York’s Roseland Ballroom, was a cursory promo for the band’s latest, “Nocturama,” which was released in February.

The reviews of the album have not been gushing for Mr. Cave, who is generally a critic’s favorite for good reason: He is among the foremost songwriter/singers around, evoking trembling emotional landscapes with a finely honed tenor that has broadened with age.

With existential nods to poet W.H. Auden, an affinity for the desperate criminal losers of Jim Thompson novels and a fondness for both melancholy and brutality, Mr. Cave has built a fan base around the world that scoops up anything he and his band release.

“I’m happy to be sad, as they say,” Mr. Cave said in a 2001 interview with British rock mag Mojo. “I respond well to the sadness in things. And the humor.”

Last year’s visit to the 9:30 Club from the band did not disappoint: at least 100 people stood in a warm May rain to get a good spot to see the show in the sold-out venue. The Bad Seeds have played the venue five times, at both the old address and the new.

The District lost out this time, and maybe it was time for a rest: Saturday’s show in Chicago was average, which means it was still better than most acts on a good night.

“Blixa’s gone,” was the first thing Mr. Cave said as he walked onto the stage of the ⅔ full Chicago Theater, referring to the February resignation of guitarist Blixa Bargeld, the stone-faced Goth poster boy who co-founded the Bad Seeds in 1983.

Theseven-piece band, led now by the scarecrow-like violinist Warren Ellis and two drummers, was best served when Mr. Cave sat down at his baby grand, opening with “Wonderful Life,” from the new album and progressing through a set that mixed the best-known songs with surprises, including a version of “Wild World” from Mr. Cave’s “other” band in the 1980s, the musical train wreck that was the Birthday Party.

“West Country Girl,” ordinarily a jaunty, melodic murmur, was awash in thick drums, “Tupelo” was hurried and disjointed, and the dusted off oldie “Sad Waters,” from 1986 was melodic and mellifluous.

This was whatWashington missed this time: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds squaring off without its musical muse and making it work, even if they weren’t as breathtaking as in recent tours.

Maybe next time.

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