Not-Exactly-a-Review: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, O2 London, 30 Sep 2017 by Davina Baynes.
A few weeks ago I went to watch Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds perform at the O2 Arena in London. I’ve loved the lyrics and music of his songs for a long while now and the chance to see a live performance was too good to pass.
We arrived by tube to be welcomed inside the station itself by a board which said…
‘Brilliant!’ I thought.
Sitting quite high to the right and above the stage, waiting for the ‘off’ was interesting: the sheer volume of people flooding into the standing area and those trickling into the seats above, the neon advertisements for future shows and events scrolling around us. The stage itself didn’t seem enormous although it did have a T-shaped projection midway, jutting out towards those standing. There was also a square platform either side of the T with a sizeable gap between and a drop of several feet below. These were later to be known as: the chasms of ‘a fucking accident waiting to happen’ as Nick leapt, gazelle-like, on and off them whilst increasingly nervous stewards were on point underneath in case he fell. Nothing really normal about that then.
‘Normality’ stopped as soon as the concert started. The experience was both transcendent and séance-like.
The various members of the band came on stage and took up their starting positions. Then Nick himself climbed on board for the ride, wearing a black suit with a white shirt which had an oversized 1970s style collar.
With the explosion of Anthrocene. ‘Here I come. Here I come,’ with the weirdness of the music, mixture and repetition of words. ‘All the things we love, we love, we love. We lose.’ Music here which imitates so many natural sounds yet pared right back by the end.
Higgs Boson Blues struck out and he levered down into the standing crowd holding their hands to his chest asking repeatedly, like a shamanistic chant, ‘Can you hear my heart beat?’
From Her to Eternity spiralled along and upward and outward. Images and disturbance created through the discordant sounds and lyrics. Tupelo beasted its way out into the arena. Monochrome images projected behind and to the side. The heart beats, with the not so veiled threat of the Sandman, and a dark, disturbing story full of images that contradict normal childhoods. Lullaby-like at times yet only as the forerunner of a nightmare. Both songs exploded with furious, tumultuous rage.
Jubilee Street was dedicated to Nick’s ‘foxy’ wife. With a steady, melodic intro it gradually becomes ‘A ten ton catastrophe on a 60 pound chain.’ As further instruments join in the melody the beat itself, the engine, becomes more and more insistent. Pushing the wheel of love up the hill reminiscent of Tantalus along with threat of the little black book. ‘Practice what you preach’ and hypocrisy is punished. The transformative experience and ‘flying’, being held by the legs by the crowd whilst captivating their hearts and emotions. Lighting and the music becoming ever more hypnotically entrancing.
Then the immediate contrast of The Ship Song. ‘Come sail your ships around me and burn your bridges down.’ Making history, loosing dogs and letting down your hair. A song to make you smile and believe in love. Piano then took centre stage with Into My Arms: feeling, and sounding, hymn-like with beliefs, doubts, calling on God, Christ and angels. ‘Into my arms, Oh Lord.’ This declaration of a belief in love and its glorious, illuminated path. A beatific song.
Red Right Hand, rang out clearly. This song is undoubtedly the best known here in the U.K. (the theme song of Peaky Blinders) and it evokes both an industrial heartland and the dark, corrupting influence of the tall, handsome, capitalist man who has the red right hand. Nothing in the way this song was staged disappointed, nor did anything feel predictable. The inclusion of the ‘angry little Tweets’ of the protagonist brought the song straight into the here and now.
The Mercy Seat simply takes no prisoners nor shows one iota of mercy, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ The electric chair is unrelenting with no concept of mercy like the music and lyrics themselves. Repeated lyrics. Repeated and repeated. The violin that breaks through the steady increasing beat. Conveying the desire of the man in the chair for the whole thing to be done with. ‘In a way I’m yearning to be done with all this measuring of proof.’ The song builds up and up until it reaches an almost unbearable crescendo. A story rerun endlessly until, finally, it peters out and…
Distant Sky, made me cry. The female voice was beautiful, just so much heartbreaking beauty in this song. Skeleton Tree: the exploration of grief and a crackling voice. ‘The echo comes back empty. And nothing is for free.’ Memories of a dreadful moment in time. But… ‘It’s alright now…’
Stagger Lee, a spectacularly foul-mouthed reworked ballad of blood and murder. Violent images, violent language, violent uncomfortable screaming and screeching which pierce through your body in a visceral way. A discomforting song in every respect. A ballad of a bad, bad man. The crowd on stage, including a single, bare-chested guy, took on the role of joint story tellers and singers keenly.
Final song of the finale was Push The Sky Away. The washing haze of the music slowly forming into the melody like heat haze rising off a field. Feeling and repeating. ‘Push, pushing.’ Not listening to your friends. Pushing the limits and not being too easily satisfied. The power of music to affect your very soul.
One thing that struck me was the clear affection between Nick and the band and the familiarity which allows ribbing to take place. For example when he was chatting away to the audience while the poor old band kept keeping the rhythm going, and going, and going. Finally there was the plaintive cry from them, ‘Get on with it Nick!’
The willingness and courage to bare one’s soul to strangers, to make such direct contact with an audience, to share so much of oneself … this, to me, was a unique and unforgettable experience. Lying onto the standing crowd, standing amongst them held up by his lower legs, walking and running amongst them. Much later, during the encore, opening up security barriers to allow a whole bunch of people to come up onto the stage and join in – who would ever forget that?
A mesmerising, transfixing, affecting performance both magical and shamanic. Joyous, spectacular and triumphant. A spiritual experience rather than a rock concert and one I will never, ever forget.
- Jesus Alone
- Higgs Boson Blues
- From Her to Eternity
- Jubilee Street
- The Ship Song
- Into My Arms
- Girl in Amber
- I Need You
- Red Right Hand
- The Mercy Seat
- Distant Sky
- Skeleton Tree
- The Weeping Song
- Stagger Lee
- Push the Sky Away