If a rock concert’s greatness can be judged in part by its lingering after-effects, then Nick Cave’s show with the Bad Seeds at the Orpheum Theatre Sunday night was an unqualified success, the kind that keeps concert addicts on the hook.
The outsize performance by the Aussie rocker and his airtight band careened from punishing and red-hot to hushed and cool blue. The next day, the buzz was still in the bones, the words continued to ring in the ears, and little thrills erupted when recalling peaks in a show that was at once expertly calibrated and maniacally footloose.
While Cave and the band (which included indie-rock chanteuses Shilpa Ray and show opener Sharon Van Etten supplying backing vocals) are touring in support of their entrancing recent release “Push the Sky Away,” they reached deep into the well for a decades-spanning setlist that had the sold-out crowd on its feet for the entirety of the 100 minutes.
Highlights were numerous and came at a quick clip. One minute you were riveted by the languid grooves of “Jubilee Street” and ruminating on lyrics like “a 10-ton catastrophe on a 60 pound chain,” and the next, Cave would bust out a true word pretzel like “Higgs Boson Blues” — mashing up images of Miley Cyrus, mummified cats, and evil colonizers — and then whiplash into the crash bang of “From Her to Eternity” and then the serpentine slink of “Red Right Hand,” which sounded like a demonic hotel lounge jazz band fronted by Lucifer himself.
Throughout the show Cave — still cutting a sharp figure with his inky mane and natty suit — moved around the stage as if pulled by an unseen force. He would abruptly plunk himself behind a piano to pound out a few notes before leaping up and pointing, writhing, and laying hands on those in the first few rows, like a demented preacher channeling Mick Jagger, Leonard Cohen, and Dracula. His cracked baritone bray was in forceful form as he crooned and shouted about God, sex, death, disappointment, and love in various configurations, as on the masterfully weary observation “People Ain’t No Good.”
But it was regular set closer “Stagger Lee” that stole the night, epic in scope, as thrilling as it was vulgar. Cave and the Bad Seeds delivered it with cinematic color, strong playing, and devilishly theatrical spirit, intending to leave a mark and doing just that.