Gig review by Toni Woodward with gig photography by Andy Watson

Nick Cave

Promptly at 8.30, Nick Cave swaggers on stage looking characteristically dapper, in a tailored suit and shirt, and takes a seat at the centrally positioned grand piano. To the one side sits his co-conspirator Warren Ellis, whilst Martyn Casey, Thomas Wydler and a replacement for Barry Adamson take their positions towards the back on a raised part of the stage.

Nick Cave

Without uttering a comment, the band embark on an epic length set with Water’s Edge taken from the most recent Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album, Push The Sky Away. The song assumes a more avant-garde feel compared with the recording owing to the prevalence of the piano. Over the weighty rumblings of the bass and vibrations of the kick drum, Ellis’ violin line flows sensitively into ever crevice of the venue adding a certain elegance to the song. The backdrop of red curtains provide a tasteful canvas that is lit in accordance with the ambiance of each song, in this case simple white floor lights. The rest of the band is plunged into darkness and there is a solitary spotlight upon Cave who embarks upon The Weeping Song. Cave has a unique vocal style; he emanates a gothic, mysterious sound that has a sinister quality, which is alluring rather than threatening. He has the ability to use dynamics with such effect that it enhances the numinous atmosphere that he is creating as each note progresses. At the end of song, Nick discards the lyrics from the piano in a nonchalant style before the single strike on a tubular bell announces the start of Red Right Hand, which, thanks to Peaky Blinders, has become one of Cave’s most well known songs. The enchantment of the song is enhanced by the pounding accentuated offbeat that gathers weight and as the song develops Cave stands astride the piano stool to provide further power into the keys. With the additional keyboards providing noise to heighten the well-organised chaos of sound, Red Right Hand emphasises the high quality of the mix in the venue whether the volume be vast or hushed.

Nick Cave

Nick Cave finally leaves the piano to collect a bright yellow t-shirt which he refuses to put on, despite shouts of encouragement from the audience, however, the garment spends the rest of the gig placed on the piano in full view of all. The simplistic drum sample introduces Brompton Oratory and offers a change in pace and sees Cave moving around the stage, leaning out over the audience. At times his gestures are reminiscent of a youthful Leonard Cohen, his slender frame hunching over and responding to the music in a distinctive style whilst managing to engage fully with all sections of the sold out audience.

Nick Cave

Nick heads over to Warren Ellis for the understated beginning of Higgs Boson Blues, which is augmented by the subdued lighting of a number of dangling, dimly lit light bulbs. The first few minutes of the song illustrate the seductive attributes of Cave’s voice and as the song reaches its climax you can see the passion flowing from every part of his body; he is expressive to the ends of his fingertips luring you into his world. Ellis’ backing vocals are the ideal contrast to Nick’s, effectively drawing the song to a tranquil ending that sees Cave’s vocals diminish to the hushed whisper of “can you feel my heart beat?” and as he has everyone’s full attention it is quite possible that his heart beat could have been heard. This ten-minute epic becomes one of the highlights of the set as the use of dynamics and repetition, in the live arena, surpasses the beauty of the record.

Nick Cave

Between songs, the audience take to shouting out requests some of which are considered and others openly dismissed however, we are then labelled “demanding” and to be honest, at certain points in the evening the constant barrage gets slightly frustrating. The next song is a positive response to a request and Tupelo’s tempestuous tone and delivery power throughout the hall, the drums and bass resound physically through your being whilst Cave gathers the a couple of ladies at the front and takes on the role of a preacher calling on a divine spirit, laying his hands on their shoulders and instigating the rapture. He then mouths to the rest of the audience to participate and embrace the vast energy that he is unleashing. Mermaids sees the pace alter again and gives you time to contemplate on the intricacy of Cave’s lyric writing; he is a true wordsmith who uses language so effectively that while you are listening he is conjuring up vivid images to coincide with the musical experience.

Nick Cave

The Ship Song and Into My Arms reiterate Nick Cave’s talent for lyric writing further where he demonstrates his ability to write hauntingly magnificent love songs that never stray into the realms of tasteless or tacky. After a minor feedback issue, the compelling rhythm from the piano and drums on From Her To Eternity illustrates Cave’s ear for the unusual; choosing chords that ordinarily should sound so wrong he constructs music that makes perfect sense. On top of this discord is the fascinating noise created by Warren Ellis on the violin, who is so vigorously playing that part of his bow gives Wydler a shock but no enough to put him off the beat.

Nick Cave

Throughout the set, it is obvious how interconnected the musicians are and at times you can see Cave almost conducting the collective from his piano encouraging either the extension of a song or to increase the heaviness of the track with a shout of “make it evil”. During the introduction of West Country Girl, a male member of the audience shouts out, in a broad Scottish accent, “you sexy bastard’, which completely puts Nick Cave off his stride and requires him to take a moment before bringing in the vocal line. He handles this misdemeanour with the same humour as has been customary all evening for example noting his need for lyrics in And No More Shall We Part, because it’s hard to remember them all. I Let Love In sees Ellis return to the guitar which is required but, nevertheless, his enthusiasm and wild antics leave him when he places his violin down and as Cave leaves the piano for the xylophone in Up Jumped The Devil he faces the problem that the instrument can’t be heard well enough to create the impact that he is searching for. The accordion beginning to Black Hair is a prime example of the influence that Bill Fay has had upon some of Cave’s work and this flows into the stripped down version of The Mercy Seat.

Nick Cave

The finale of the main set is Jubilee Street, despite this being from the latest album it has become a staple Nick Cave classic, with its repetitive guitar riff and melodic vocal line it oozes magnificence. Unfortunately, owing to altered arrangements the swell of strings is played on the piano and it loses some of the beauty that had been conveyed in his 2013 live set, however, it still stands head and shoulders above what most musicians are able to even dream about composing. The band leave the stage to a standing ovation but you only have to have read a review of this tour and you are well aware that Nick Cave isn’t finished with us yet. The opening track of Push The Sky Away, We No Who U R, opens the encore with Ellis’ flute line providing an evocative melody over the samples. At this point, most of the stalls are on their feet and many have headed towards the stage for a closer encounter with their idol, this interaction is relished by Cave who presents us with an invitation to sing along with God Is In The House. Stranger Than Kindness is another prime example of Nick Cave’s capacity for producing incongruous notes to great effect in creating unsettling music, which is played out further with Jack The Ripper and The Lyre of Orpheus’ refrain “O Mamma”. Just before he begins the final song of the set, Cave sings a brief snippet of Grinderman to satisfy an audience member who has been rather forceful about his love of Cave’s other project and he been told to “fuck off’ more than once. After this comedic exchange, Push The Sky Away draws this marathon two and a half hour concert to a close with an air of serenity.

Nick Cave

I have seen Nick Cave a number of times and each time his talent overwhelms me. Not only is he an innovative composer and musician, his aptitude for performance ensures he creates a mystical space in which to receive his work that goes far beyond anything that other musicians are able to produce. Considering he has been creating music for over forty years, he is showing no signs of stopping, in fact, his work and delivery shows quite the opposite as it is becoming more intense and honed and the time goes on. It is an utter privilege to witness such imaginative greatness.

Set List:

Water’s Edge
The Weeping Song
Red Right Hand
Brompton Oratory
Higgs Boson Blues
Tupelo
Mermaids
The Ship Song
Into My Arms
From Her to Eternity
West Country Girl Play Video
And No More Shall We Part
I Let Love In
Up Jumped the Devil
Black Hair
The Mercy Seat
Jubilee Street

Encore:

We No Who U R
God Is in the House
Breathless
Stranger Than Kindness
Jack the Ripper
The Lyre of Orpheus
Grinderman Intro
Push the Sky Away

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