Sunday, 11 May 2008

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – 9 May 2008, Hammersmith Apollo

Much has been made of the revitalising effect of old Nick’s nasty old Grinderman project on The Bad Seeds repertoire – the way playing bone-crunching raw eyed swamp rock has fired them up. Certainly the latest Bad Seeds album, ‘Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!’ sees our Dark Lord in a playfully rockin’ mood (and using the punctuation of an excitable twelve year old girl). So as we settle into our circle seats, feeling quite young in comparison to our fellow audience members (all traces of past gothery erased – these are nice mums and dads reliving their big-haired youth), we wonder what delights there are in store. Surely the band won’t be able to surpass the last time we saw them - a sublime mix of the devotional and the deranged, complete with gospel singers.

Whomp! Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds hit us right between the eyes from the get-go and don’t let up for two hours. They are spectacular, filled with a ferocious lust for life, booting their older songs up the arse and dragging us by the hair on a rip-snorting ride around the new album.

The Bad Seeds are on top form – men who mean business. Aside from Mr Cave himself, Warren Ellis is the obvious star of the show. Looking like a wild eyed prophet who’s just staggered in from the wilderness, crazy old man beard and hair a-flurry, he wrenches diabolical shrieks from guitar and viola alike. You’ve never truly seen a man play viola until you’ve watched Ellis terrorising the instrument. Who knew you could treat it like that? During ‘We Call Upon The Author’ he’s on his knees, supplicant in front of a crazy guitar/mandolin thing alternating between torturing noise from its depths, pounding on the floor with his fists and going into unlikely backbends to reach for the microphone.

Wire-thin, managing to carry off a look that no fifty-something man should really be attempting, Nick Cave is squeezed into a tight jacket, pinstriped kick-flares and pointy Chelsea boots. He looks like a character from ‘Yellow Submarine’. Later, he emerges wearing a skinny-fit ‘Dig…’ tee-shirt plundered from the merch stall and Good God he looks amazing; rushing frenziedly across the stage; cavorting out to tease the front row of the audience; hurrying back and forth to bash out a few notes on his keyboards; doing crazy Cave-esque hands-above-the-head disco belly-dances. He even goes for the full-on rock-out factor by strapping on a guitar for odd numbers. This isn’t the Cave of reflective sojourns behind a piano that’s for sure. The man Entertains. And that’s before you even get to The Songs.

‘Tupelo’ rumbles stormily, complete with a vast, thunderous night sky as a backdrop. It’s screamy and sweaty and full of thrillingly intense viola desecration. ‘Deanna’ is full-on vaudeville, a crazy-eyed clap-along. ‘The Lyre of Orpheus’ takes up the music-hall thread, the audience encouraged to join in with its half-camp/half lamenting refrain of "Oh! Mama!" which they do with gusto. ‘Papa Won’t Leave You Henry’ rollicks around menacingly. ‘Let Love In’ is given a Johnny Cash make-over, in the way Johnny Cash gave ‘The Mercy Seat’ a make-over (a song, incidentally, conspicuous by its absence tonight – but really, there’s such an embarrassment of riches on display here its presence is unnecessary). ‘Today’s Lesson’ and ‘More News From Nowhere’ are both unspeakably groovy in different ways (one a Stooges/ organ-funk swagger, the other laconically swinging).

Cave introduces ‘We Call Upon The Author’ thus, "Check this out. This is worth the price of admission alone." He’s right, the band ransack the entire history of garage rock, funnelling it into a hypnotic hurricane of a song, before cracking it with white out blue-funk NoiZE. Jeez, no wonder they need two drumkits.

There are few concessions to Cave’s sublime oeuvre of big bad ballads, we get ‘The Ship Song’ (squeals of joy from the audience) and the ever gorgeous ’Into My Arms’, but that’s really not what tonight is all about. To prove it, the set ends with a double flourish, ‘Hard On For Love’, as nasty as the title suggests and a terrifying ‘Stagger Lee’, the stage illuminated blood red, Cave screaming at the top of his lungs. Argh!!

Here’s ‘In The Ghetto’ with a young Mr Cave looking thoroughly skagged up, but damn! totally cool. See how beautiful he is with that magnifique explosion of hair? Who knew heroin was such a great conditioner? Man, what a crime it is that that hair is slowly being lost now. Can’t we get a preservation order slapped (no pun intended) on it? Luckily, thanks to the cannily cropped press shots and artfully framed videos (the edge of the frame always seems to come just above Nick’s eyebrows?) we can try to not notice the obvious and keep our memories of those raven-tressed glory days intact.

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