Monday, June 19, 2017

Nick Cave at the Auditorium

The build up was palpable. The show on Tuesday night had such a magical quality to it that there was a general nervousness on my part: would Nick be good in Chicago, would the show resonate, will it be time well spent? The danger of seeing one of your favorite artists at more than one show is that everyone can have an off night. If Nick was off, finally feeling exhaustion after so much time on the road, would I see it here? Would it impact my enjoyment of the show? Such selfish considerations, and yet the thoughts flickered through my mind a touch. Perhaps it was just the overall challenge of the Chicago show.

As I usually do, I bought two tickets. 

Two tickets to a Nick Cave show, no date. 

Surely, I would find a date well before the night of the show. It is Nick Cave, after all. It is Chicago. My music going luck in Chicago, however, continues to hold true to form. I had two tickets for a show and the only date I wanted to go forgot (the sense there of complete and utter lack of value to another human's life when they forget they have been invited to a Nick Cave show is really upsetting, I discovered. I only allowed myself to cry for a night*). With around 24 hours to go before show time I found myself at a loss for what to do. 

The solution, as it often seems to be these days, was random stranger on the internet who was also a Nick Cave fan. In the end, more than anything else, I wanted to go with someone that shared my love of Nick Cave. My date for the night was an enthusiastic Nick fan, currently exploring the Birthday Party catalog, and very willing to show up. My ticket, then, went to the only bidder, a choice I do not regret. 

Perhaps after the New York show I should have stopped listening to hours of Nick Cave, but it is so hard. After several days of non-stop Nick I was starting to feel the sort of dark, otherworldly call of the siren. I wanted dark clothes and dark makeup and a dark mindset. I wanted to be dark and mysterious and beautiful: eyes smeared with kohl, red lips, sensual, strange. Finding my muse in the music I went as goth as I wanted to be, a dress of transparent black, gothic purple corset, boots, and eyes like black gems sparkling with mischief (this could also be described as Saturday Night Saradevil, but I felt more in it than usual). 

Prior to the New York show my workmate had introduced me to the online community that is Nick Cave. Following rabidly from event to event, I noted that everyone was in agreement: as soon as the show starts, Nick will call you down to the stage. Be prepared to move! 

The date was informed that the seats were optional for this show as I had every intention of getting as close to the stage as possible. Being not easily flustered, he understood and so it was that about 15 minutes before the show would begin I was standing at the aisle above my seats as he went to get drinks with a warning that I may have rushed the crowd before he could get back. Standing just below me in the isle was a woman wearing a rock-a-billy style sugar skull dress (that I wanted to steal) who was looking down at the orchestra pit and at the usher and back again. I approached, having a feeling that she might be a member of one of the internet groups. 

"I want to go down there," I said as a way of beginning a conversation. 

"Yes. Everyone says to go to the stage, but it looks like he is stopping people."

"Are you a cult member?"

Card carrying, was SugarSkulls. Kismet, a happy meet.

She points to the usher. A woman in  black with a drink passes us and walks towards the usher .

"I think she is going for it. If she is going for it we go for it."

The woman manages to get to the landing and talks to the usher . Goes back to her seat.

"Damn. Okay."

"I'm going to go as soon as it starts."

"Let's just wait and see. I have a plan."

We talked without taking our eyes of the usher. I could tell from the music on the stage that the show was not that much further out, the opening intro of Anthrocene was beginning to interject itself. Soon would be the whispers from the Prince of Darkness. Soon the stage would be a crowded throng. 

The woman in black made a second attempt. Sat again. SugarSkulls and I continued to talk. 

The woman in black sits. 

The music is changing, my inner mind starts to count the bars. I know exactly how close we are to the opening of this show. 

We watch. 

The crowd is humming. Most of this audience, at this point, has seen or is at least somewhat aware that Nick is calling people to the stage. There is a buzz like a saw blade running through the isles, my body is practically shaking with the desire to jump over the usher. 

We talked. 

This entire episode feels like a thousand minutes, twenty minutes, endless waiting. In reality between the first and second attempt of the woman in black, hardly three minutes had passed. 

Then the usher walks out the nearest door. 

I turn to SugarSkulls, "Let's go."

We glide down the stairs, past the ushers landing, straight into the orchestra pit, all the way to two empty chairs stage right, just in front of the stage. We are giggling and ecstatic. We say hello to the girls in the row and turn to the stage. Whispering among ourselves.

It was barely two minutes after we descended that the lights go down and the crowd swarms back around us. Mission accomplished, we are on the stage. There is an odd feeling of deja vu. I remember in this moment that I have a date and manage to fire off a quick text between the entrance of the band and the entrance of Nick.

And that was all. 

And than it was Nick Cave. 

And I was on the stage. 

So different, just being so close to him, with thousands of people pressed at your back. There was a wildness to being so close, the expectation and the potential. All of it bound up as he sits in his throne and reads to us, reminds us, proselytizes to us through the first song. Allowing things to swell further exploring this crowd, getting a feel for us. 

This crowd is different from New York city, too. They are hungry for him, they want him. Different from his other fans, a thirst where there was reverence elsewhere. The Midwest perhaps, reserved until given a pass to become free. Nick freed that pent of Midwestern control, to his benefit, perhaps to his horror.

In the meantime, I manage to check my phone and discover my date is just behind me. I pull him forward to the stage. Maybe a mistake as this seemed to signal to the girls on the right of me that I was not wearing a wristband for the orchestra pit. Girls not from the Midwest but from California. At this point, there were only maybe five people that close to the stage wearing a wrist band for the orchestra pit. The crowd had swelled as soon as the lights went off and more than half the people at the front of the crowd had rushed down from the dress circle. By the end of the night people from the nose bleed section of the theater, people from the box seats, people from the balcony, had all made their way down, pushing closer into the crowd if not onto the stage itself.

Perhaps it was because she was from California but she felt very wronged by it all. All these people without that marking of the elite, standing where she felt she had a right to stand. I, we, all of us, were out of line (as a note, every ticket for the orchestra pit and dress circle was issued at the same price, so we were both on equal footing as to the spend for the night). She yelled at me about her cost, her expense, her privilege. She wanted to make an issue of it, but I just waved my hand around¾indicating everyone else without a wristband¾and ignored her.

Unhappy she told security guards her tale of woe. 

The guards just looked at the crowd, a mass of arms, none of them wearing a wrist band. 

He shrugged. She remained unhappy. 

I lost myself in Nick Cave. It was the only emotion I wanted to feel at that point. The only thing that mattered. 
Through the first three songs he only toys with the audience, barely interacting. Walking about the stage, coming close, coming closer. Soon he is standing over me, I can smell him, his sweat, see his shoes, I could reach out and touch him, but I have too much respect. He stands and sings over me and I am overwhelmed by the power of it.

     Looka yonder! Looka yonder!
     Looka yonder! A big black cloud come!
     A big black cloud come!
     O comes to Tupelo. Comes to Tupelo

     Yonder on the horizon
     Yonder on the horizon
     Stopped at the mighty river
     Stopped at the mighty river and
     Sucked the damn thing dry
     Tupelo-o-o, O Tupelo
     In a valley hides a town called Tupelo

A story. A warning. He wanders around the stage. Pacing as the story builds, builds towards the damnation and ruin. Builds towards the end. 

     Distant thunder rumble. Distant thunder rumble
     Rumble hungry like the Beast
     The Beast it cometh, cometh down
     The Beast it cometh, cometh down
     Wo wo wo-o-o
     Tupelo bound. Tupelo-o-o. Yeah Tupelo
     The Beast it cometh, Tupelo bound

So caught up in the music I was, so straining for his attention I was, so immersed in singing the songs I was, that it didn't occur that Nick Cave was walking towards me. I was unprepared. 


Unprepared for what would happen next. Unprepared for everything to be laid waste, the beginning, the ending. 

Nick walks towards me and reaches down. 

He takes my hand. 

He whispers to me...

     Why the hen won't lay no egg
     Can't get that cock to crow
     The nag is spooked and crazy
     O God help Tupelo! O God help Tupelo!
     O God help Tupelo! O God help Tupelo!

A whisper. His hand is smooth and warm. His eyes are like blue fire as he looks at me. His words mouthing to me. A moment that lasts a second a connection that lasts a second. For a moment, I am touched¾physically, emotionally, mentally¾by an artist that few can match in the history of my life. For a moment I am alone in that theater, my hand gently in the hand of Nick Cave while he sings words to me from a song about death, life, a warning, a challenge. 

It was intense and beautiful.

Perhaps this was a signal for a few minutes later I see a pale hand extend down for mine again, to sing to me about Jubilee Street. I almost pass out. He kept circling back near me. SugarSkulls and I both had the same idea.

"He keeps passing over me at every show."

"I think I'm his type," I respond. With my dark goth sensibilities, dark hair, dark eyes, let me believe it is true. 

Nick passes over our end of the stage several times. In the New York shows the right side of the stage was the place to be, but in Chicago the stairs are on the opposite side, so it is difficult for him to fall into our arms. At one point the girl from California jumps on my back and tries to wrestle me out of the way, much to her dismay when I am neither fussed nor give up my position. Perhaps trying to push someone wearing a ten pound corset who can bench press you is not such a great idea. Fortunately, after that, she leaves me alone, choosing instead to be miserable on her side of the stage. Later, I try to fathom making myself so unhappy in a space so full of wonder and I cannot.

The show continues, the crowd undulating, until finally he calls the audience to the stage for Stagger Lee, and I help SugarSkulls up, before crawling up myself. Standing there, on the stage, where I had envied the crowd just a few days before.

We rush forward and up, and it is there, standing there, that I capture a moment, Nick at the center of the crowd, Nick at the center of the universe, Nick at the center of all the universes. In a single instance it is as if the man, the musician, the hero we have all come to worship has drawn down on all the power inside that crowd, calling up our life, our aura, our essence, our power, becoming one with it, controlling it, controlling us.

He was right there. Exactly who he was born to be.

It was complete perfection, a full story, a full circle. Unlike New York, the crowd stays on stage after the final chords of Stagger Lee drop from hall. 

"Warren, what do we do now?!" 

There is a laugh in it, amusement, joy. The Chicago crowd is rougher than New York, vibrant and alive though, and Nick doesn't seem to care at all about it. 

Warren raises his hands and begins to shush us, then up and down, signaling for the crowd to sit, and they do. Like kindergarten children, they kneel, cross their legs, lie down in a circle on stage around Nick as the finishes with Push the Sky Away.

I am covered in sweat as the crowd breaks. My date turns to me.

"I think this pretty much just set the bar for every first date ever." 

This was a show to end all shows. 

We push onto the street, laughing, giggling, full of warmth and affection for sharing private passions in public, for worshiping with Nick Cave.

*Hellion, as always, I adore you for being there when I cried and making sure that it was the last time I cried over that. You amaze me. 

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