It was our 10th wedding anniversary last autumn and a few days before, still struggling to think of something original to get my long suffering chap, I received one of those magical ticket alert texts from Ents24 that sent me running to my laptop. Nick Cave - one of the few musicians we both share an equal passion for - had recently announced a European tour and fifteen breathless moments later I’d managed to get us tickets.

7 months later and as we took our seats in the circle at the Apollo, plastic pint glasses of cider in our hands, we grinned at each other like maniacs. The stage was draped with velvet from ceiling to floor and lit in blood red, the band carefully spaced around the grand piano like a traditional quartet: Thomas Wydler on drums, Martyn Casey on bass centre, Barry Adamson on keys and the multi-talented and chronically bearded Warren Ellis seated front stage left on a variety of strings, guitars and percussion. As the lights dimmed, an unmistakably tall and narrow figure stalked onstage in a blue suit and seated himself at the grand piano, before launching us straight into the deliciously dark and moody ‘Water’s Edge’.

It was the start of a fabulously eclectic set that spanned the Bad Seeds’ entire back catalogue, building the already ecstatic audience into a frenzy early on with a gorgeously faithful rendition of ‘Red Right Hand’ - arguably Cave’s most popular song and a soundtrack prerequisite of any good crime drama – and then reducing them to rapt silence with a stripped back solo version of ‘The Mercy Seat’. Although he seems content when seated at the piano, it’s at the front of the stage with the microphone, breathing his lyrics into the ears of the his fawning fans, that Cave really seems to come to life. A consummate showman who seems both entirely absorbed in the performance and attuned to his audience, Cave is electrifying to watch. One moment singing in a whisper, addressing the words of his songs to an individual, the next stalking the line of faces with a look of angry contempt, bellowing fire and brimstone. Coincidentally, earlier that week I’d just finished reading Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and couldn’t help but note the obvious similarity between Cave’s performance and that of the Dustbowl-era preachers. This is in part due to his sombre tombstone appearance of course, but largely it’s his delivery; his intense, personal rapport with his audience and his ability to hone in and fan their emotions. There is something almost voyeuristic about watching Cave work individual members of the crowd – pulling their hands inside his silk shirt to feel his heart ‘boom boom’ during ‘Higgs Boson Blues’. In a way it almost feels like dogging.

The inclusion of both (Polly Harvey inspired songs) ‘West Country Girl’ and ‘Black Hair’ late in the set served to bring it to a very personal close. Cave seems to have no fear of vulnerability on stage, pouring raw emotion into every repetition of phrase in ‘Black Hair’ , understanding that every member of the audience knows exactly who and what that song is about. The pre-encore set drew to a fitting close with the fabulously melancholic ‘Jubilee Street’: its great peaks and troughs of sound wringing emotion out of everyone watching, but of course there had to be more. ‘We No Who U R’ opened a hugely eclectic second set, followed by ‘Breathless’ (from ‘Abattoir Blues’), ‘Stranger Than Kindness’ (from 1986’s ‘Your Funeral, My Trial’) and then a beautiful solo cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Avalanche’ – the only non-Cave song in the set. Finally responding to the desperate pleas of a few very vocal audience members, the band launched enthusiastically into the dark-as-hell-stuff with ‘Up Jumped the Devil’ – Cave flinging himself across the stage from vocal mic to xylophone in a kind of demented fervour – and then the gloriously nasty ‘Jack The Ripper’ from (my favourite album) ‘Henry’s Dream’. 

To be honest, if I’d been in charge of the decision making I would have chosen ‘Jack’ as the set-closer but, in typical contrary Cave fashion, he instead eased his way out of our embrace with the tender and beautiful ‘Push The Sky Away’, leaving us feeling both completely connected with him and – as the final notes faded - entirely bereft. Awesome is a word that’s overused these days in my opinion, but in this case I’d have to say deserved. Definitely my gig of the year so far.

 

Review by Law Turley

 

Setlist 

Water's Edge 

The Weeping Song 

Red Right Hand 

Brompton Oratory 

Higgs Boson Blues 

Mermaids 

The Ship Song 

From Her to Eternity 

I Let Love In 

Love Letter 

Into My Arms 

West Country Girl 

Tupelo 

Black Hair 

The Mercy Seat 

Jubilee Street 

 

Encore:

We No Who U R 

Breathless 

Stranger Than Kindness 

Avalanche (Leonard Cohen cover)

And No More Shall We Part 

Up Jumped the Devil 

Jack the Ripper 

The Lyre of Orpheus 

Push the Sky Away 

Posted
AuthorSteve Muscutt