Rock-star slim and dressed in a black suit, Nick Cave brought post-punk menace and a charismatic preacher-man persona to the Mahalia Jackson Theater on Monday night.
Performing with a six-man band that produced subtle atmospherics and pulverizing musical violence, Cave lurched and strode all over the stage on spindly legs. Like a species of wading bird, he hopped and spread his arms as if he were about to fly.
A godfather of goth rock, Cave blasted out of Australia in the early 1980s with his furiously noisy band the Birthday Party. The Birthday Party didn’t last, but his succeeding band, the Bad Seeds, is still growing 30 years on.
A multifaceted artist whose creative endeavors include writing novels, acting, composing movie soundtracks (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “The Road”) and writing screenplays (“The Proposition,” “Lawless”), the singing and sometimes piano-playing Cave commandeered the Mahalia Jackson Theater stage in his best-known guise as leader of the Bad Seeds.
Cave launched the nearly two-hour show with a pensive new Bad Seeds song that could almost be a hymn, “We Real Cool.” Not one to keep his distance, he descended from the stage into the aisle below. Singing his solemn song, he stayed close to the people at the stage’s edge.
The ironically titled “Jubilee Street,” another song from Cave and the Bad Seeds’ 2013 album “Push the Sky Away,” ascended in volume and intensity. “I’m pushing my wheel of love,” the poetic Cave intoned. “I got love in my tummy, and a tiny little pain, and a 10-ton catastrophe, on a 60-pound chain.”
Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Monday set list spanned the band’s three-decade history, including the Elvis Presley-inspired title song from their 1985 album “Tupelo.” During this quintessentially slow, dark Bad Seeds song, Cave’s expansive arm and hand gestures emphasized his ever-quotable lyrics.
“Rumble hungry like the beast,” he sang. “The beast, it cometh, cometh down, Tupelo bound.” If the beast didn’t actually arrive in Tupelo, a visitation by Cave would do just as well.
Also from the early Bad Seeds years there was “From Her to Eternity,” a song closer to the industrial post-punk rock of the Birthday Party than Cave’s later material with the Bad Seeds. Onstage in New Orleans, the Bad Seeds were at their noisiest and most muscular as Cave wailed his pain and rage.
“Red Right Hand” is deservedly among Cave and the Bad Seeds’ best-known songs. It featured the dramatic hammering of a bell tone, menacing atmosphere and Cave in full performance mode as he sang his story about a mysterious figure on the edge of town who is a god, a man and a ghost.
“They’re whispering his name through this disappearing land, but hidden in his coat is a red right hand!” Cave sang. Needless to say, it was one of the night’s favorites.
Cave and the Bad Seeds’ range of music isn’t wide. The songs grew repetitive in concert, but nobody does what they do better than them.
Opening the show, the New Jersey-based Nicole Atkins and her two-man band were a good match for Cave. Musically, she’s Edith Piaf meets Ann Wilson and The Shangri-Las. Dancing barefoot in a witchy, hippie outfit with winglike extensions beneath its arms, Atkins resembled a latter-day Stevie Nicks.