Tonight you soon realise you are in the company of one of the greats. Nick Cave is an iconic showman, he has a stage persona as memorising as Jagger or Morrissey; both of whom he also shares the luxury of an extensive back catalogue of well crafted songs to cherry pick a set from. And in the Bad Seeds, he has well oiled and tight as you like machine, which includes local lad Barry Adamson, who started out as bass player in Howard Devoto's post-punk outfit Magazine and was an original member of The Bad Seeds. Now he has returned after a 27 year hiatus. All these guys have been around the block a few times and they know how to play.
There is an obvious comparison of sorts between Morrissey and Cave. He is two years Mozza's senior, they have both enjoyed a career over three and a bit decades in which they have continued to release critically acclaimed albums that are adored by their audience. They talk directly to people who might feel like an outsider or at least those who don't want to be part of the herd. Some might consider their music to be an acquired taste but it really connects with those who get it, and just as much with Generation Y as Generation X. It's a sign of greatness when an artist is being discovered by a new generation - the same way I discovered The Doors, The Beatles and The Velvet Underground two decades after their prime. It's difficult to think of many other artists whose new material as remained so relevant through the decades, even Bowie has trouble keeping up.
Another striking similarity between the boy from the Victorian Bush and the Stretford Bard is the pure adulation they enjoy with their audiences. It's electric, male or female, straight or gay - you can feel it, you want to be part of it. Cave oouses an intensity and rugged sexuality as he works the stage. Now let's be honest, most mortal blokes in their fifties would look ridiculous leaning over the stage barrier with their top shirt buttons loose whilst gaggling fans desperately stretch to grope the inside of their thighs, (just imagine Harry Styles from One Direction appearing at Sandown Pier in 30 years time being molested a bunch of divorcees with fake tan and bingo wings), but Cave carries it off with panache.
It takes years to earn this type of iconic status, many artists' live shows regardless of how culturally relevant they were at their zeitgeist, eventually become part of the retro touring circuit; people come together and share music that was the soundtrack of their live at that time - nothing wrong with that, it keeps provincial live music venues going. But whilst Cave has never enjoyed mainstream commercial success, the quality of his continued output with both the Bad Seeds, Grinderman and other collaborations has established himself as an artist with longevity. He deserves this cult status, he is a one off, so comparisons with Morrissey can only go so far. Cave is more outward looking and angry, he spits and hurls live mics across the stage with a deafening thud! This doesn't seem to be done for effect; he is just in the zone. There is intensity about everything he goes, he has a definite edge and only a fool would mess with him. There is a dark gothic undertone to Nick Cave, he's happy exploring the depth's of human depravity - violence, lust and passion. It's all here, what a treat.
The show starts with the atmospheric opener from Push Away The Sky, The Bad Seeds latest album, 'We No Who U R'. Followed by another track from the record, 'Jubilee Street', a haunting ballad building to a frenetic crescendo, which has considerable more punch performed live. Violinist Warren Ellis is like a man possessed flinging his bow across the stage as the song comes to a climax - he looks a bit like a hyperactive version of Public Image Limited's Lu Edmunds, with his unruly long hair, bushy beard and the ability to master a range of different instruments. There are plenty of early Bad Seeds crowd pleasers in the set - such as 'Tupelo', 'Red Right Hand' and a re-worked version of 'The Mercy Set' played at a slightly faster tempo. "This is a song I wrote before I learnt how to write poetry" quips Cave as he introduces 'From Her To Eternity'.
There are moments of tenderness and beauty when Cave takes his place behind the piano to play some of the ballads that give his work that mixture of light and shade. 'Into My Arms' is the purest of love songs. There is a special moment during 'God Is In The House'; Warren Ellis sits on a stool, violin in his lap, swigging from a bottle, waiting for his cue. It's like a scene from an outlaw saloon in the wild west. As Ellis finishes his violin solo in the middle eight, Cave spontaneously breaks from the piano to walk across the stage and give Ellis a bear hug, before sitting down and completing the song. But the highlight of the set is the epic 'Stagger Lee' - with all it's sleaze, gratuitous violence and black humour. Cave gets to play the anti-hero with real gusto. It's the only track on the set list tonight from the 'Murder Ballad' album which did so much to raise Cave's profile due to duets with Kylie Minogue and PJ Harvey. His performance is spellbinding; you can see why people would want to capture it. But the smart phones are annoying our hero as he strides across the crowd barrier to get up close and personal, then ad-libs to someone with a phone, "The Devil has an IPhone in his hand" . He sarcastically demands to our very own Mudkiss Mel who is in the crowd "take my fucking picture" then promptly poses for a photo.
The show is brought to a close with a brand new song, he says "you won't have heard this before" a ballad called 'Give Us A Kiss'. Not the obvious choice to bring the curtain down. Especially with all the Bad Seeds classics that did not feature tonight. No 'Ship Song', nothing from 2008's wonderful 'Dig Lazarus Dig' album. But it would be churlish to have any complaints after this epic two hour show. Simply marvellous.
Review by Paul Holloway
Paul Holloway presents The Guest List (Wednesdays 7pm) on Stockport’s radio station Pure 107.8FM. Listen anywhere www.pureradio.org.uk
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