Nick Cave forged his reputation as the king of catharsis long before his teenaged son died in a 2015 cliff fall. That tragedy deepened the grim tone and minimalist substance of Skeleton Tree, his 2016 album with longtime band the Bad Seeds. And it shaded the start of their first Boston show in four years at the Boch Center Wang Theatre on Saturday. “All the things we love, we love, we love, we lose,” Cave gravely sang from a chair in “Anthrocene,” followed by the also new, synth-wracked “Jesus Alone,” where he implored “With my voice, I am calling you.”
But Cave’s call could have easily been directed to his congregation in the wake of his grief. The sold out Wang crowd responded with moral support and inspiration that helped Cave rise from his mournful ruminations to ramshackle exhortations that still make him one of rock’s most riveting frontmen—with a band to match.
In “From Her to Eternity” and “Tupelo,” Cave became fully roused, stalking and howling across the stage and into the front rows while Bad Seeds foil Warren Ellis waved his violin in fits of feedback. And the singer kept riding emotive dynamics across a stunning two and a quarter hours, from piano-rooted ballads “Into Your Arms” and “God is in the House” to “The Mercy Seat,” which hit a mid-song surge of adrenaline to match the tale of a man facing his execution.
The singer continued to wade into the crowd, grasping hands (“I like touching people,” he piped) and playfully forgetting the words after an exchange with one fan, ultimately shifting from the profound to the profane in the murder song “Stagger Lee.” Then the most eerily startling snapshot came out of nowhere.
Cave motioned for fans to join him onstage for encore finale “Push the Sky Away,” sharing in a vocal here and a dance there, until the stage was full and the singer stood atop the piano bench, swaying his arms over the crowd like a fisherman casting hope to the rippling sea.
“Some people say that it’s just rock and roll, but it gets you right down to your soul,” Cave intoned as fans picked up the verse, “You gotta keep on pushing. Keep on pushing. Keep on pushing. Push the sky away.” The metaphor was wide open, along with the answer of who benefited most from the exchange.