After 30 years of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, you might think that this most magnificent of groups would be getting a little frayed around the edges. Not so. Earlier this year, the band released what I believe is one of their best albums in Push The Sky Away. For me, this album is certainly the best Bad Seeds release since 2001’s No More Shall We Part. However, with Mr Cave engaged in writing various screenplays, a book as well as the Grinderman side project- it’s fair to say that the Bad Seeds have not exactly been rushed off their feet since. Nonetheless, the fragile, haunting and, at times, explosive textures of Push The Sky Away do not speak to a band on the wane.
So, it was with great excitement that Jo and I headed west towards the Hammersmith Apollo last night. We’d only seen the Bad Seeds once before, on their previous tour. And, at that time, we weren’t that familiar with the rest of the band’s output. So last night felt like our first gig as proper fans as opposed to casual observers. A couple of beers were drunk in The Trout, before we headed over to The Swan to see a friend from work, Alan, who was also going to the gig. On the way to The Swan, I heard a guy walk past us exclaim “Westway to the World!”, which I assume was a reference to The Clash documentary of the same name. And he got out his camera phone to take a photo of this most mythical of west London roads. I didn’t feel like telling him that he was photographing the Hammersmith Flyover.
We headed back to the Apollo after one drink, Jo was quite keen to get a decent spot for the show. We caught the tail end of the support act, but I was more concerned with trying to find out how Southampton v Fulham had gone and what my Super 6 score was. I know, I’m bad. Real bad.
9pm. The lights went down, the Bad Seeds strolled on from stage right and then, to a rapturous welcome, Nick Cave himself- dressed in black (again). When the band began touring the new album, I believe the first half of the show was the new album in its entirety, with the second half devoted to the Bad Seeds greatest hits. Starting with We No Who U R, the first track from “Push”, it seemed we might get the same. The percussiveness of this track was a real surprise, the richness of Nick’s voice was not. “Jubilee Street!” may be my favourite track from the new album, I love the way it just builds and builds. Here we got Nick repeatedly “transforming… vibrating”, demanding that we “Look at me now!”, he needn’t have worried about that. The energy that went into this track was more appropriate to a set closer than a track played just five minutes in.
Then, a detour. Abbatoir Blues, a track I’d actually been thinking of without any expectation of hearing it last night. “I went to bed last night and my moral code got jammed/ I woke up this morning with a frappuccino in my hand” always makes me think Jo, it’s also one of my favourite Nick Cave lyrics. Thinking of big black cloud expected over London today, Jo had wondered to me whether we were going to get Tupelo. That question was answered very quickly. Nick beginning the song on the piano before returning to the front of stage, his shadow creating a spidery shape on the walls of the Apollo as the cacophony grew around him. I think, at this point, Barry Adamson had joined Jim Sclavunos in bashing the shit out of a drum kit.
It’s difficult to talk about set highlights when talking about a gig that was full of them, but from the new album, the melancholy Mermaids was superb. “I was a match/ she was a catch…” Warren Ellis guitar work at the climax of the song really took me out of myself. I think that’s all anyone wants from a gig- a moment of transcendence. Unless you’re paying £35 for a bit of background music, which, obviously some people do. Not that there were many of those people inside the Apollo last night. Nick paused to tell us how much “that song always cheers me up”, shushed everyone and then we were thrust into the psychodrama of From Her To Eternity. I fucking loved hearing that last night. I can’t imagine a time when I won’t love hearing it.
And then, having created the mother of all storms inside the Apollo… it was piano interlude time. The beautiful Love Letter and then Far From Me.
Higgs Boson Blues, with its references to both Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus got a few, to my mind, inappropriate laughs. Nick dragged the song’s coda out, grabbing someone in the audience’s hand and putting it to his chest, “can you feel my heart beat?” As Nick got involved with something at the front of stage, I forget what, he said over his shoulder to Warren Ellis, “Warren, start the song.” I didn’t recognise the song at first, and then I realised it was one of my favourites from Abbatoir Blues, Hiding All Away. “There is a war coming!” Oh yes, there is, Warren’s viola/violin whatever the hell it is soared above and through the driving music, creating a kind of sonic hurricane. Then, perhaps the most famous song in Nick’s repertoire, the Mercy Seat. Not my favourite, but hardly a hardship either. Two guys just in front of me were taking it in turn to bellow the song’s lyrics at each other. I enjoyed watching that.
The murderous tale of Stagger Lee couldn’t fail to hit and then Push The Sky Away closed out the main set. A beautiful song, the lyric “Some people say it’s only rock and roll/ ah, but it gets you right down to your soul” may be the perfect, 2 line, distillation of 30 years of the Bad Seeds. The backing vocals from the rest of the band over this most pared down of tracks were a delight.
The encore began with the rumbling We Real Cool and then, apparently, a real crowd favourite Deanna. there’s something about this song that’s always irritated me, but I enjoyed it last night. Red Right Hand saw lots of- hey!- red right hands lifted towards the roof. That’s another Cave composition I don’t think I could ever get bored of, a great song. At this point, Nick told us they were going to play one more song and asked if anyone wanted to hear anything. Evidently, someone asked for Jack The Ripper because that’s what we got. A couple of real pearlers in this one.
“I got a woman, she just hollers what she wants from where she’s at”
“She screams out ‘Jack the Ripper!’ every time I try to give the girl a kiss”.
Brilliant. Just brilliant. And it still wasn’t over. This wonderful show closed on a new track, Give Us A Kiss. Unfortunately some drunk wanker at a back was intent on ruining it for everyone, repeatedly shouting out something that sounded like “Go on, Michael!” If that was you, then you, sir, are a fucking knobend and I hope you get run over by a bus. Or run into that bad motherfucker named Stagger Lee, he’d sort you out.