Nick Cave Hits New Heights in Wondrous Tel Aviv Concert

Israelis came to worship, and they were not disappointed with a performance by the Australian rock legend that was almost unbearably good

Nick Cave performing during his concert at Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim Arena, November 19, 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

“Have a good time” just doesn’t cut it when you see Nick Cave live. That’s a given. His concerts are never bad, and the show at Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim Arena on Sunday night was almost unbearably good.

How good? Song after song, a paradoxical sensation arose anew. On “From Her to Eternity,” which just grew and grew and grew. You wanted it to never end – but then it did and another song, “Tupelo,” began – and you had the same feeling all over again. And again with “Jubilee Street,” and so on.

>> Nick Cave: BDS is the reason for my trip to Israel >>

The show was built around two solid platforms: one musical – Nick Cave the singer, Nick Cave the writer, and Nick Cave and his superb band, the Bad Seeds. The other touched on a performatory, emotional and communal level.

Cave has always been an expressive performer, someone who forges a direct emotional bond with his audience. But what happened Sunday night defied the usual definitions of a concert. This was more like a ritual, a mass act of worship, which was especially notable at the beginning.

Truth be told, it grated at first. The combination of the audience’s instant hero worship of Cave and what seemed like his obsession with physically touching everyone in the audience was simply too much. He ran from one side of the stage to the other, interacting with everyone, obeying some inner demon seemingly goading him to overdo it. The music couldn’t counteract it. The songs from his latest album, “Skeleton Tree,” sounded rather weak, sluggish and lukewarm. They lacked the desired combination of hot and cold, proximity and distance. Everything was all too close, just wrong somehow.

And then everything changed. It started in the middle of “Higgs Boson Blues,” and exploded in an almost frightening way in its intensity in the aforementioned “From Her to Eternity.” As Cave songs go, this was one of his hits from the 1980s – and we know what hits from the ’80s usually sound like at this large sporting arena. What happened Sunday night was the exact opposite. A metaphorical saw of noise shook the stage, accompanied by a whip that cracked again and again. You never knew where it would land next.

Nick Cave saluting the crowd during the concert at Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim Arena, November 19, 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

The next 20 minutes, during which he performed “Tupelo” and “Jubilee Street,” were equally tremendous. Cave’s desire to touch us all erupted in these minutes, too, taking him, among other places, to the very back rows of the balcony. But now with the musical perfection on stage, he had absolute artistic backing.

Things mellowed somewhat with “The Ship Song” and “Into My Arms.” But just when you thought the concert was heading in the usual “greatest hits” direction, Cave and his band wondrously performed some more songs from “Skeleton Tree”, which sounded 10 times better than the other new songs at the start of the show.

First and foremost was “Girl in Amber,” which for me was the real tearjerker of the evening. Cave sings it beautifully, the accompanying black and white video of a woman slowly growing more distant is gorgeous, while the wonder of the Bad Seeds’ backing vocals was simply ineffable. Operating a saw? Cracking a whip? Yes, but angels too.

And then Cave did something that will live long in the memory. He approached the audience, but this time was not looking for hands. He didn’t hug, touch or embrace, yet in a moment of beauty, somehow embodied love. He stood among the crowd, yet remained apart from it. His soft voice was almost pleading, against the background of his angelic accompaniment: Don’t touch me.