Nick Cave said in an interview once that he'd take cheap fabric to the best tailors to get his suits made to look "like a businessman whose ambitions were beyond his abilities." The analogy could be applied to his music with the Bad Seeds over the last decade or so, when, ever since an unhappy studio experience recording 1993's rockin' Henry's Dream, the Seeds have gone from Bad to a kind of well-rehearsed worse. The band matured from the artful sturm und drang of early post-punk nuggets (see "From Her To Eternity" and "The Mercy Seat") into Adult Contemporary for Aging Goths, a sound that started with The Good Son and The Boatman's Call and culminated with 2003's double disc Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus.
What this double DVD/CD set from the Abbatoir Blues Tour of Europe does best is show a man and his band finally outshining the shadow of his post-punk roots once and for all.
Looking like the cast of Deadwood dressed in his Sunday best, Cave with his cast of drummers, keyboard players, background singers, grand piano and longtime collaborator Mick Harvey sells the new material with finessed aplomb. Cave and his never-say-die hairline is the Reconstruction Rat Packer: With his head wreathed in curling cigarette smoke, he conducts the Seeds through melodramatic readings of "Red Right Hand" (famously resurrected since the Scream soundtrack), "Nobody's Baby Now" and such stoic classics as "The Ship Song," only to release his inner, ivory-tickled Bacharach on the newer stuff.
Sonically, the big difference is that Blixa Bargeld the noisy guitar muse of early Seeds, is gone, his sound-additions supplied by Dirty Three violinist Warren Ellis, whose mournful, manic gypsy fiddle typifies the piano and background singers of these Seeds.
But with a pair of DVDs (the more over-the-top Brixton Academy show and the more intimate, scaled-down Hammersmith Apollo show) and two more CDs (one has Cave's poppiest hit, "Deanna") Cave is such a showman, punching up OK songs with glittering live renderings, that he takes his place between Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen. With Abattoir Blues, the suit not only fits now, it shines; even when if the material it's made from doesn't.
Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.