Review Summary: Live From KCRW is a snapshot of where the Bad Seeds are now, and where they are is pretty darn cool.
Anyone interested in a crash course in Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, as well as the band’s development over its 30-year lifespan, need look no further than two of its live albums: Live Seeds and Live from KCRW. Where Live Seeds encapsulates the raw aggression and menace that characterized much of the band’s early career, as well as the increasing prominence of texture in their music at that time, KCRW showcases the band’s newfound identity as a group concerned primarily with texture and subtlety; the space between the albums traces a transition from garish Technicolor to varying shades of grey.
As live albums go, Live from KCRW is something of a rarity for established bands: forgoing the typical widescreen, arena-filling, screaming fan live album, KCRW comes from the band’s performance at the titular radio station, giving the set an intimate feel seldom found outside of lo-fi bootlegs. It’s a real treat to hear Cave interacting with what sounds like a small group of dedicated fans, and it’s a perfect setting for them to debut live versions of cuts from Push the Sky Away.
The setlist is pretty inspired, and the band clearly gave some thought to the unique setting. About half the set is made up of songs from Push the Sky Away, with the rest comprising a smattering of songs from the rest of their catalogue. The Boatman’s Call’s “Far From Me” and “People Ain’t No Good” were obvious choices, while early-days numbers “Stranger Than Kindness” and “The Mercy Seat” fit in surprisingly well with some reworking. The selections and new arrangements lend the album an impressive homogeneity, and someone who didn’t know better would have no trouble believing that all the songs performed (well, except for “Jack the Ripper”) came from the same album.
Fans have heard “The Mercy Seat” dozens of times, but the delicate piano and violin rendition here is unlikely to disappoint, and it’s a testament to Cave’s songwriting skill and artistic sensibility that he is still able to find new facets within songs he wrote decades ago. Live from KCRW is a snapshot of a band at a new and exciting point in their career, and is an affirmation of their continued artistic evolution, an evolution towards something not better or worse, just different. And really, what else can we ask of artists?