Mere days after PJ Harvey turned in an emotional and powerful performance at Thebby, Adelaide was treated this evening to the remarkable and phenomenal Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Both Mr Cave and Ms Harvey, have stylistic similarities and cover dark subjects and have  evangelical followings.

And Nick Cave is a striking figure, part shaman, part evangelical preacher full of fire & brimstone, part folk singer, part screaming banshee, amazing story teller, beautiful crooner, Prince of Darkness, romantic, poet, raconteur, showman and funny bugger. He is all these things and more. His on stage charisma is intense. He spends a lot of the set getting close up and personal with the front rows of outstretched hands hoping to touch Saint Nicholas of The Cave.

His songs have always dealt with death, loss and heartache, but the latest album Skeleton Tree, was recorded in the wake of the tragic death of his teenage son Arthur, and casts an ominous shadow over tonight’s setlist. It’s by no means a morose affair, in fact there is redemption in the sharing of his pain and journey, with this congregation of people who know his circumstance and empathise with his loss and marvel at his ability to take us on his journey through this dark path. All but one of the songs on Skeleton Tree get played this evening. The seven piece Bad Seeds creating a rich and nuanced bed for Cave’s vocals. The arrangements range from the delicate to a cacophonous wall of sound.

nick-cave-01Starting with three songs from Skeleton Tree, Anthrocene, Jesus Alone and Magneto Cave is soon embracing the audience, at times being held up by them, holding hands with them and using their energy to drive his performance. “Put your fucking camera away!” he tells one over zealous snapper in the front. Higgs Boson Blues from 2013’s Push The Sky Away is punctuated with a repeated “BOOM BOOM BOOM” which has a hypnotic and jarring effect. The audience is in enraptured and when he starts the title track from 1984’s From Her To Eternity things crank up several notches. That leads into a personal highlight for me a stunning, emotional ever building Tupelo from First Born is Dead in 1985. The simple bass line driving it on while subtle projections depict a tree in the wind.

Jubliee Street (Push the Sky) is next and lead us to a sublime The Ship Song. It is like a hymn. People are watching Cave, mesmerized by while they sing-a-long.

Come sail your ships around me,
And burn your bridges down
We make a little history baby
Every time you come around

There is a barrage of people yelling for various songs “We could do that” says Nick. “And we could do that too. If you sing this one with me I’ll play those other ones you want. Just the chorus will be fine.” And he takes to the grand piano for stunning Into Your Arms. This too has the feel of a hymnal that would sound at home in a cathedral. Not lyrically but it has the sort of church music arrangement that Cave uses so effectively from time to time. And again, everybody is singing along with the chorus’s and it is communal and extremely moving. Two more from Skeleton Tree Girl in Amber and I Need You after which he declares “That was fucking good!”.

The stage is bathed in red light as he starts an intense Red Right Hand. Used recently to pitch the Barossa Valley as a holiday destination, it is excellent to see it back with it’s rightful owner. The effect of the sea of hands around Cave in the red lighting is contrasted by the jarring white light to punctuate the musical stabs and that organ solo, holy shit that sounded amazing. Concerned with some of the wandering hands of his faithful during the song, Cave quips “That, is sexual harassment in the work place. I was probably asking for it. Let’s form a support group. And hug it out”. With barely a second to catch our breathe The Bad Seeds launch into The Mercy Seat from ’88’s Tender Prey. It is thunderous, breath taking and epic. Distant Sky and Skeleton Trees title track round up the main set. He thanks us with great sincerity. The deafening ovation bring them back for an incredible four song encore.

Nobody’s Baby Now from Let Love In is a magnificent surprise and clearly a crowd favourite. He returns to The Good Son for a magical version of The Weeping Song, which had me tearing up. I have been listening to that song for twenty seven years and it still gets me right in the feels.

The previously requested favourite from Murder Ballads, Stagger Lee is intense, sweary, violent, disturbing and pretty close to genius. They leave us with the title song from Push The Sky Away. There is thunderous applause, people are spent, emotionally and physically. They file out into the balmy Adelaide night feeling like they have seen the raptures, been touched by the hand of their own personal Jesus (with apologies to Depeche Mode),or a backwoods holy travelling man, working voodoo and magic, beguiling and confronting converts new and old with his unexplainable powers and mojo.

Heartbreaking, joyous, redemptive, amazing. So fucking good.

Review by Ian Bell 2017

Set list
Anthrocene (Skeleton Tree 2016)
Jesus Alone (Skeleton Tree 2016)
Magneto (Skeleton Tree 2016)
Higgs Bosom Blues  (Push The Sky Away 2013)
From Her To Eternity (From Her to Eternity 1984)
Tupelo (The First Born Is Dead 1985)
Jubilee Street (Push The Sky Away 2013)
The Ship Song (The Good Son 1990)
Into My Arms (The Boatmans Call 1997)
Girl In Amber (Skeleton Tree 2016)
I Need You  (Skeleton Tree 2016)
Red Right Hand (Let Love In 1994)
The Mercy Seat (Tender Prey 1988)
Distant Sky  (Skeleton Tree 2016)
Skeleton Tree  (Skeleton Tree 2016)

Nobody’s Baby Now  (Let Love In 1994)
The Weeping Song (The Good Son 1990)
Stagger Lee (Murder Ballads 1996)
Push the Sky Away (Push The Sky Away 2013)