Konzert von Nick Cave and the bad seeds, Waldbuehne Berlin Nick Cave and the bad seeds *** Concert by Nick Cave and the bad seeds, Waldbuehne Berlin Nick Cave and the bad seeds

Almost two hours have passed on Wednesday and emotions are running high. Nick Cave leans into the audience. He says to the fan holding him, “You’re a big boy, aren’t you?” He presses the microphone into the raised hands of another, then turns to a woman on her boyfriend’s shoulders.

He signals his band, the Bad Seeds, to play very quietly and looks the woman in the eye. She can hardly believe her luck, her mouth keeps forming the words “Hold me, Nick!” and “I love you!”. He reaches out his hand, almost touching hers, not quite yet. Then he starts purring. Finally the touch, and what does he sing to it like a mantra? “Hannah Montana, Hannah Montana, Hannah Montana”.

With Nick Cave, the line between rock star performance and deconstruction is fluid. It feels like he’s playing on the seductiveness of the masses while showing the absurdity of that devotion. Disney sitcom star Hannah Montana makes a performance as cryptic as it is scathingly funny in his 2013 song “Higgs Boson Blues.”

But it is not only his texts, which oscillate between poetry and satire, that invite lively interpretation, but also his performances.

Nick Cave is a walking sampling machine. Text fragments keep breaking out of it and into other pieces. For example, “Cry, cry, cry” from 1984’s “From Here To Eternity,” the earliest song he performed at the Waldbühne.

Right in the third place, it’s not even half past seven. That’s saying something, after all the piece swells to a thunderstorm-like crescendo. On the way home, an elderly woman will whisper to another: “It was almost like war.”

Cave – as always in a narrow, black suit with a waistcoat underneath and a wide unbuttoned white shirt – paces restlessly across the stage. Only for moments at the central grand piano, then back to the edge of the stage. He drops to his knees, whispers, then screams again. So much energy in him that needs to come out, even at 64.

He hurls this “cry, cry, cry” at the audience over the course of the two and a half hour concert, as well as “just breathe, just breathe, just breathe”, a line from his song “I Need You” from 2016. The year before his son Arthur was killed in an accident when he was 15 and Cave used his music to come to terms with the loss.

He didn’t want to tour at the time, instead he shot the documentary “One More Time With Feeling”.

Then, in early May 2022, the next stroke of fate: another of Cave’s four sons, Jethro Lazenby, died under unspecified circumstances. He was 31 years old. This time Nick Cave is going on tour. It starts at the beginning of June, after a four-year Corona break. When he performs in Barcelona on June 4, he dedicates “I Need You” to his remaining sons, Luke and Earl.

In Berlin he doesn’t pronounce this dedication, but it still makes your throat tight when he plays the song alone on the grand piano. “Nothing really matters when the one you love is gone,” he sings, before repeating this “Just breathe” over and over again at the end until it slowly fades away.

Just breathe. You look at the screens next to the stage, on which his face can be seen in close-up, and search for traces of his pain. Attending a Cave concert is also a lesson in one’s desire to experience great, genuine emotion – ultimately an exercise in humility.

In many of the 22 songs that Cave plays, spread out over his more than forty years of work, lines of text suddenly glow that seem charged with the experience of loss. Every time you blow your nose in a towel on stage, you can quickly interpret it as an emotional outburst. Cave uses this for his game with almost 21,000 in the sold-out Waldbühne. So he breaks the general devotion when he gleefully clears his throat on the microphone in the silence at the end of “I Need You”.

One song earlier, on “Bright Horses”, the singer’s voice breaks. Is he overwhelmed by his emotions? It would come as no surprise given the harrowingly luminous cascades of vocals contributed by musician Warren Ellis to the 2019 track. Ellis is a Schrat with long shags that gradually merge into the equally long beard. It doesn’t matter whether he’s sitting in front of the microphone with a small synthesizer on his lap, as in “Bright Horses”, or eliciting bursts of noise from his electric guitar in “Jack the Ripper”: The member of the Bad Seeds seems to be literally vibrating with creative potency.

Not only on stage does Ellis act like the second epicenter next to Cave. In the past 15 years he has become the singer’s most important partner. Together they wrote a number of soundtracks, most recently for the nature documentary “Der Schneeleopard”. The two of them also came up with Cave’s current album “Carnage” (2021).

They play two songs from it live, the title track and “White Elephant”, at full volume. Meanwhile, with Carly Paradis on the keyboards, there is also a woman in Cave’s live line-up. In addition, there are three backing singers in glitter outfits, who reinforce the gospel touch of several pieces.

This fits perfectly with the singer’s preacher image, who not only sings about love, death and Hannah Montana, but also likes to sing about faith. The audience, mostly in their mid-thirties to mid-fifties, lets the current songs pass them by with friendly restraint. It reacts more emotionally to old ballads like “The Ship Song” from 1990. Some people sob uncontrollably – even without any darkness that could hide the tears.

Nick Cave increasingly hypnotizes his audience. When he encourages people to raise their arms during “Ghosteen Speaks”, at the end of the first of two encore blocks, then they also stretch these arms upwards in the top tier. He sings: “I think my friends have gathered here for me.”

Cave may be a master manipulator. But there was something else in the evening air at the Waldbühne on Wednesday: a deep affection for the people who had gathered to see him.