Nick Cave has had a prolific career – three decades ago he was flashing a punk sneer and mutilating himself on stage as the front person in the anarchic Birthday Party. His literary streak (a novel, a set of plays for the stage, film appearances as well as performing poetry) has developed over the last quarter century; from pub-rock proletariat (From Her To Eternity) to an earnest balladeer with Victorian sensibilities (The Boatman’s Call). Cave’s looming stage presence is the one constant in a career that has seen him morph from being the King of The Goths (Your Funeral…My Trial) to a next generation Leonard Cohen (The Good Son). His latest incarnation (Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus) has him pitching a near-evangelical act over a bed of gospel-tinged swampy blues-rock.
Clearly Cave is pleased with his recent double-album – selections from it dominate the show. The opening Abbatoir Blues is a focussed, slightly low-key beginning, but Hiding All Away is absolutely ominous – Cave leaping and prowling about the stage, his demented, joyful, swaggering dance a highlight of almost all of these evening’s songs, but certainly never better than on this particular number. And then the creeping brilliance that is Red Right Hand shuffles out, the first old song in this set of new numbers. After Get Ready For Love, Cave applies the hand-break with Easy Money; taking the piano stool for the first ballad of the evening. The Weeping Song (from The Good Son) was another treat before Warren Ellis exchanged violin for flute and piped out the quirky groove of Breathless. This was followed up by Babe, You Turn Me On – these songs are both from the other half of his double set, The Lyre Of Orpheus and worked to showcase The Bad Seeds’ ability to drop from a scream to a whisper.
The military precision of The Mercy Seat’s rhythm (from 1988’s Tender Prey) returned to the menacing tone of the concert’s opening salvo with There She Goes, My Beautiful World rounding out a tight set.
Cave and The Bad Seeds – one of the world’s greatest backing bands, for certain (yet it seems impossible to imagine them backing anyone else) – returned for a five song encore beginning with a “b-side for the devoted” (Come Into My Sleep) which, judging by the audience’s response, must have meant everyone! From there Deanna (again from Tender Prey) was a rock’n’roll delight and No More Shall We Part’s soft, intense ballad God Is In The House proceeded the superb Do You Love Me?
This encore was supplemented – after endless applause – by the piano ballad The Ship Song and then, a different form of ballad, Cave’s larger-than-life appropriation of traditional folk blues and raw punk energy, Stagger Lee (from The Murder Ballads). It is hard to say what makes Cave so original after so many years – particularly since he has managed to absorb the enormously powerful musical characters of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and John Cale – and never ever seems like he’s regurgitating the work of anyone else. Cave, in fact, never even repeats himself. His boundless energy – he whipped the air, cranking the handle of an imaginary music-box in to overdrive – and consummate artistry; his flair for performance (and his fantastic songs) kept the audience stunned!