Dark crooner Nick Cave takes command of the Keswick Theater (review, photos, setlist)

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Nick Cave doesn’t have time for your crap. He has a reputation to uphold, after all – that of the cranky, occasionally combative, vocally stunning and lyrically intense crooner from Australia who has explored songwriting’s dark side in a stately manner for over three decades. Try to take an up-close Instagram of him during his set at The Keswick Theater last night? He’ll shove that iPhone right out of his face and holler at you to put it the eff away. Heckle him? He’ll snap right back at you in a menacing tone. But cheer him on, and Cave is generous with his rewards, as the sold-out house in Glenside found.

The 90-minute set mixed up back-catalogue classics with material from the downtempo (but nonetheless tense) new album Push The Sky Away – “We Know Who U R” was a gentle sing-song opener took a smooth glide into “Jubilee Street.” Cave’s longtime backing band The Bad Seeds worked wonders on this song, rebuilding the simmering album version into a skyrocketing crescendo that was punctuated by Cave’s jack knife thrusts and jerking kicks over the front row. By the end of the song, he was in command of the theater.

“Higgs Bosun Blues” evolved in a similar fashion over eight minutes – he opened his South By Southwest show last week with this one – and by the time it peaked, Cave was warmed up. “Can we start getting these chairs out of here?” he asked of the folks sitting in folding seats in the front row, and as the floor opened up, he plowed into the crowd with his microphone in tow to the violent strains of “From Her to Eternity.” With the mic cable stretched as far as it would go, Cave settled more or less in the lap of an enthralled fan, gripping his collar and screaming the last minute and change of the song into his face.

The show was only the fourth appearance Cave has made in the Philadelphia area – he tends to play New York, DC, or skip the United States altogether – and the rarity of the appearance amplified the excitement. Cave navigated a sea of outstretched fingers on “Red Right Hand,” whipped up a monster singalong to “Deanna” and even dipped deep into his catalog for tender, nuanced selections from 1986′s Your Funeral, My Trial (the title track as well as “Stranger than Kindness”) and 2001′s No More Shall We Part (“God is In the House”).

Onstage, aside from the Bad Seeds usual suspects Warren Ellis (violin, guitar, flute) and Barry Adamson (keys, xylophone, auxiliary percussion), Cave was joined on backup vocals by Brooklyn singer-songwriter (and Shaking Through alum) Sharon Van Etten, who delivered her own nuanced opening set. As the main set wrapped to a close, Cave’s expletive-laden take on the blues legend of Stack-O-Lee (“Stagger Lee,” from 1996′s Murder Ballads) brought down the house, with the stunning “Tupelo” and “Push The Sky Away” stretching out the nervous energy for a few moments more. It was thrilling and felt like overload – but it also felt like it was not enough. For some devotees of King Cave, it could never be enough.

Setlist
We Know Who U R
Jubilee Street
Wide Lovely Eyes
Higgs Bosun Blues
From Her To Eternity
Red Right Hand
Stranger Than Kindness
Jack The Ripper
Deanna
Your Funeral, My Trial
God Is In the House
The Weeping Song
The Mercy Seat
Stagger Lee

Encore:
Tupelo
Push the Sky Away

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