When it comes to music videos, not meaning the three minute, jump-cut infested MTV variety but the feature length treatment of a particular artist, popular taste is divided. One camp favors a more documentarian treatment-something that let's us know who these rock stars are when they're not on stage or on a record. Another camp stays true to the live performance, worshipping the pure unadulterated concert experience. Mute records, in 2005, fully realized the value-for-money potential of DVD and bring these two diverse camps together for one hell of a two-DVD set featuring Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. While both of the featured releases were loosed upon the world over fifteen years ago, fans and collectors of Cave's work will rejoice at being able to purchase high-quality versions of both in one fell swoop.
The Road to God Knows Where, following the tradition of D.A. Pennebaker's fly-on-the-wall view of Bob Dylan on tour in the late sixties in Don't Look Back, presents a candid portrait of Cave and the Bad Seeds on their United States tour in 1989. Director Uli Schueppel follows Cave through the less glamorous aspects of international Rock and Roll stardom. From the grinding downtime of the tour bus, on which Cave puts on a show of old Blues, Country and Gospel songs with his guitar and a interesting looking hat and sunglasses combo, to the petty negotiations with petulant club owners who are unwilling to meet Cave's demands for the sound system, every detail of road-life is covered. An obviously bored Cave endures fan mail, photo shoots and press, all the while trying, most unsuccessfully to paint on a smile and get through it.
Lacking one single sit-down, face-to-face interview, the cameras pick up Cave and the band's day to day life and leave the viewer to draw their own conclusions about how the participants feel. During the brief interview segments, one for television and a couple over the phone for newspapers and radio stations, Schueppel lets the viewer see Cave's disgust and frustration at the repetitive and unchallenging interviewers, but never intercedes to make sure we, as observers, get the point. All is left for us to see and decide. As if to emphasize the drudgery, the director includes only frustratingly brief segments of actual musical performances, the very things that Cave says he enjoys the most. While humorous at times, and ultimately brilliant in the way it tells the story of life on the road, The Road to God Knows Where will probably appeal primarily to established fans of Nick Cave, as the pacing reflects the downtime and infinity of the life of a touring band.
Live at the Paradiso more than compensates for the just out of reach snippets favored by the Schueppel documentary. Unfolding slightly later in the Bad Seeds chronology, Live finds the Seeds playing with a larger repertoire and characteristic enthusiasm.
Atmospheric numbers like "The Mercy Seat" and "The Carny" showcase Cave's ravenous bark and wild stage contortions, while more subdued songs like "The Ship Song" and "The Weeping Song" allow Cave more room to snake-charm the audience with his sonorous chanting. Guitarist Blixa Bargeld even gets a chance to sing on "Weeping Song," which is almost as entertaining as his down braiding of an unsuspecting club-owner on Road to God Knows Where. Each song is introduced with a short break on screen during which the name of the song is scrawled across the screen. While helpful in learning the titles of the songs, the breaks are ultimately needless interruptions. The energy suffers little, however, as epic versions of "Tupelo" and "From Her to Eternity" prove.
At the time these films were originally released, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds had been recording and touring in some incarnation for years. The road weariness is evident, clearly, but so is a dedication for providing the most for their fans. The frustration at answering the same questions, hundreds of times, hangs over Cave's face, but so does the joy to be on stage and irreverent. For all the painstaking monotony evidenced on The Road to God Knows Where, there remains the rapture of performance on Live at the Paradiso. For every hilarious aborted performance of "Deanna" on the live set, there are two perfect renditions of "Knockin' on Joe" and "The Mercy Seat" on the documentary. For all of the suffering Cave endures for his art, his enjoyment of it is clear as well. Watching him caper about during sound check while a Madonna song blasts over the house PA is a truly unforgettable musical moment.
The two DVDs, taken together, show both sides of the Rock and Roll touring experience, giving the viewer the complete feel of what it's like for these idolized, but still regular people. Ultimately proving the necessity of this balance, for all the seriousness associated with Cave's tales of love, religion, and death, he has maintained a certain levity in his personality that shines through the dark of his music when he allows it to. That's probably why he's still around and on that never-ending road.