News / / 29.10.13

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Hammersmith Apollo, London | 27 October

The best tribute of the day came at around 10.30pm on Sunday night. Illuminated by a handful of violet spotlights, Nick Cave announced on stage at Hammersmith Apollo that the final song of the evening would be dedicated to Lou Reed. “He died today,” he said. “It’s a very sad day”. The haunting organs of Push the Sky Away emerge, and in an evocative nod to the Velvet Underground legend, the song’s closing lines took on a powerful new resonance: “Some people say it’s just rock’n’roll / Oh but it gets right you down to your soul”.

It was the culmination of an electrifying show. The last time we’d caught Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the sun was beginning to set over Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage. It was one of the festival’s highlights no doubt, but this is an outfit far better suited to a pitch-dark auditorium. And with his hellfire preacher man persona, it seemed fully appropriate that Cave took to the stage as the St Jude storm closed in amid warnings of a battering of biblical proportions.

Renowned for his raucous theatrics, Cave opted for a more restrained start with We No Who U R, the delicate opener to the band’s latest LP, and the momentum continued to build with Jubilee Street, his pensive tale of a girl with “a history but no past”. Cave’s skeletal frame prowled the stage through the song’s smouldering first few minutes before the band erupted into a maelstrom of feedback, guitar, howls and screeching violin, with his partner-in-crime Warren Ellis launching his bow into the rafters as the frontman delivered one final air kick.

The ritualistic, rolling drums of Tupelo darkened the mood further. Cave, dressed head-to-toe in a shiny black suit like some demonic game-show host, seemed to dance between heaven and hell, hissing like a vampire one moment and delivering a fire-and-brimstone sermon the next, hollering, ‘You will reap just what you sow’. Bathed in crimson light during a mesmerising rendition of Red Right Hand, he baited a spectator in the front row, “You ain’t got a better fucking camera than that?!”.

The two-hour show served as a reminder of Cave’s brilliant lyrical skills (who else would transform Miley Cyrus into some tragic Ophelia-esque heroine, “floating in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake”?). Now well into his 50s and with hair inkier than ever, he’s on the on the cusp of becoming a true roué; when he sings his sagas of sleaze, voyeurism and violence, you fully believe him. His creative partnership with Ellis has carved out of the most authentic niches in the rock canon and you can only marvel at how the band, now celebrating their 30th year together, put themselves on the line at every show.

That’s not to say there weren’t uneven moments on Sunday night. Some of the band’s more rambling tunes ran out of steam halfway through and a trio of piano ballads – God Is In The HouseInto My Arms and People Ain’t No Good – offered up some tenderness but were far too similar in key and sound. The sentiment of these tunes, however, made a fine return with the last of the gig’s three-piece encore – a new, beautifully-understated piece called Give Us A Kiss, which opened with Cave on his Rhodes piano, swelled by some truly cinematic synths by the end.

One of the night’s most memorable moments came halfway through the set with that shimmering beauty of a song Mermaids. Introducing it with an equal measure of self-deprecating irony and total self-assurance, Cave told the audience, “You don’t know this yet but you’ll wake one day and realise this is a stone-cold fucking classic.” Take it from the preacher himself, he’s probably right.

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Words: Jack Losh