Nick Cave Monday #4: “The Mercy Seat”


There’s one song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds that pretty much sums up every era of the band, and that’s “The Mercy Seat.”

Nick has said it’s one of his favorite songs to perform because they can do so much with it, from ultra violent execution to a sweet ballad about a man facing execution.

Johnny Cash even covered the song.

This week, it’s all about “The Mercy Seat.” Here’s the original video version:

Notice the skinny gent on guitar. That’s Blixa Bargeld, the lead singer of Einsturzende Neubauten and one of the founding members of the Bad Seeds. Thomas Wydler is on drums, he’s from Die Haut. We’ll have a future story on that and Nick’s guest appearance on their record….as well as Nick crashing at Thomas’s place in Germany to work on his novel, “And the Ass Saw The Angel.”

In 1989 Nick Cave and the guys performed an amazing live version on KCRW in Los Angeles. Here’s the footage from that:

And here’s a fun version from their 1992 show at The Paradiso:

Let’s move forward to 1996, when Nick has a mysterious bandage on his left hand. Is he a lefty for self pleasure?

Here’s The Bad Seeds last tour after Mick Harvey left (if you’ve been playing along at home, we discussed that before), and on guitar is a member of the Aussie band, The Saints. Here’s “The Mercy Seat” in 2009:

Oh, let’s keep going, here’s Nick bustin’ it solo on piano on David Letterman:

Stay tuned, below is a reluctant performance of the song for Japanese TV.

I have a funny story regarding this song….it was my first time seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live in 1990, and I only knew a few songs from The Bad Seeds, I was more familiar with The Birthday Party. I was poor and working as a DJ at KFJC. The staff list was full for the show, but I had tickets to give away on my Thursday afternoon show. I called up a girl I met once, Christy, and asked her, “Do you want to see Nick Cave with me next week?”

She said sure without knowing who he was, and in absolute desperation I pulled a dick radio DJ move and gave her the tickets. No one had a chance calling in to win the pair. I was assistant promotions director at the station, so I logged the tickets to give away during my show and since I had dealt with the idiot publicist for The Warfield theatre at the time, I felt no regret giving them a little fuck over. She was an awful woman.

We got to the show and Christy needed to use the bathroom. As I waited for her and her lips I was dying to kiss at the end of the night, I heard the crowd roar and the band went right into “The Mercy Seat,” one of about five songs I knew and currently my favorite Nick Cave song. I debated leaving her in the bathroom and pushing my way to the front.

I didn’t leave her, we missed “The Mercy Seat,” but we were able to watch the rest of the show, and the one and only time I ever saw them perform “City of Refuge.”

And Christy and I made out forever after the show. She was a great kisser, it almost made up for her giving me a Nick Cave cock block.

Here’s a fun version of the song, mostly because Nick is obviously putting up with having to do the booking for Japanese television. Also, notice Warren Ellis, his new go-to man, but at the time he was clean shaven and played very low key as a Bad Seed.

“The Mercy Seat” on Japanese Television:

Thank you Christy, for the kisses that made it ALMOST worth it to miss the first song of the show.

Thank you Nick Cave and Mick Harvey for writing the quintessential song that will always be at the core of The Bad Seeds.

Thank you for reading, watching and stay tuned next week for another Nick Cave Monday.

Tony DuShane is the author of Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk. His writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, Penthouse, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Believer. And, if you’re a Nick Cave fan, check out Nick Cave Monday. More from this author →