music | 18th January 2017
Nick Cave fans are staunch. You don’t just simply dabble in a bit of Cave, you’ve got to go all in. That was the feeling I got from standing in the pit on Tuesday night, waiting for Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds to take the stage.
words: gussie larkin
photographs: ezra simons
With over three decades of material to choose from, Nick and the band started the night with three songs from his latest record Skeleton Tree, which was recorded in the tragic aftermath of the death of his 15-year-old son Arthur in 2015. Opening with “Anthrocene,” Nick sat coolly center stage, grounding himself with the weight of what was about to come. Wellington being only the third stop on their worldwide tour meant that this was the third live performance of these songs, and the gravity of that was not lost. Nick delivered the song with controlled vocal abandon, supported by Warren Ellis’ churning synth textures along with the rest of the Bad Seeds chiming in like a fragile choir. I was worried that Nick’s voice might have lost some of its shine, as it sometimes seemed to be slipping away from him in the Skeleton Tree’s accompanying film, One More Time With Feeling. I had no need for concern - Nick’s voice was flawless. And that whisper singing thing he does? Badass.
Unsurprisingly, the TSB Arena sucked some of the life out of the band, mostly due to crappy acoustics. The Bad Seeds sounded muddy and slightly directionless to begin with, and Nick punctuated this tension by swearing at the sound guy in between songs. Bassist Martyn Casey couldn’t quite lock in either. Some of the audience started on the back foot too, with fans seated in the front left side block spending much of the gig covering their eyes from blinding lights that were directed their way from the get go. By the end of the fourth song, at least two dozen seats were empty!
"Nick filled the stage with his devilish swagger, gesticulating wildly and clutching the hands of fans in the front row"
Once Warren Ellis strummed the lush opening chords of “Higgs Boson Blues” though, everything seemed to fall into place and the audience revelled in the familiarity of the song. The band didn’t dwell in the somber for too long, interspersing songs from Skeleton Tree with favourites like “Tupelo,” “The Ship Song,” and welcoming the crowd to finish the last verse of “Into My Arms.” During songs like “Red Right Hand” Nick filled the stage with his devilish swagger, gesticulating wildly and clutching the hands of fans in the front row, and perhaps this was a way for him to generate energy to funnel into the more difficult numbers. His ability to balance the stillness and intimacy of songs like “Distant Sky” with his offhand sense of charisma was admirable. After fumbling the opening verse of “The Mercy Seat,” he added, “I’ve only sung this song 50 million fucking times.”
Even in the 5,000 capacity, soulless building that is the TSB, Nick Cave stirs something in his fans that makes him incomparable to other artists. From die-hard rock dads to wide eyed teens, his audience varies as much as his discography, with each fan able to choose a different Nick Cave adventure - maybe you like his love songs, or his raucous ballads, or maybe his newer dissonant works. Tuesday night was an encapsulating cross-section of some of his greatest work - we didn’t get anything from Dig, Lazerous, Dig!!! or Abattoir Blues, but there was more than enough there to keep every bad seed in the audience happy.
gussie larkin @gussielarkin
ezra simons @ezrasimons
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