Last year was rubbish from start to finish, and given the current alarming state of the international political climate, all signs point to 2017 being even worse. However, rather than falling into a state of despair, I’m trying to cling onto any glimmer of hope, and to savour any positive or special moment (and I’m also trying to get out more because, quite frankly, I’m too young to go full hermit just yet). So it was in that spirit that I went along to the TSB Arena a couple of weeks ago to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live.
It was just a few days before the orange buffoon took the oath of office in the USA and the world turned upside down, so the timing for this powerful and uplifting concert could not have been more perfect.
I lost two of my musical heroes last year – David Bowie and Leonard Cohen – without ever having had the pleasure of experiencing their music live. It’s made me determined to see the living ones when I get the chance, so I was very excited to finally see this wonderful man live.
The band is touring their stunning latest album, Skeleton Tree and the Wellington show was Cave’s third performance since the tragic death of his son Arthur in 2015. And what a performance. I had high expectations, but the experience of seeing Nick Cave in all his dark, mesmerising glory was more spectacular than I could have hoped for.
There was a swell of love and warmth in that room, the captive audience opening their hearts and raising their arms out toward him. And Cave does not shy away from showing his vulnerability; of making direct eye contact and literally reaching out to the audience, grasping their hands and seemingly drawing energy from them.
They opened with three songs from the new album, starting with the moody “Anthrocene”, “Jesus Alone” and “Magneto”, then taking the energy up several notches with an electrifying performance of “Higgs Boson Blues”. They maintained the raucous energy with old favourites “From Her to Eternity” and “Tupelo” and then a sublime, intense performance of “Jubilee Street”.
Cave and the band transitioned seamlessly into the tender beauty of piano ballads “The Ship Song” and “Into My Arms “(two personal favourites), for which he asked for “like, a lot” of help, and the crowd was only too happy to oblige.
I loved witnessing Cave in full dark-suited preacher mode, gesticulating wildly across the stage and whipping his reverent followers into a frenzy during “Red Right Hand” and “The Mercy Seat”, both played with manic fervour.
The Bad Seeds were in fine form, with Warren Ellis in particular a dynamic tour de force of frenetic energy on the violin.
They played all but one song from Skeleton Tree, an album in which each song is suffused with pain and grief. These songs are personal, devastating, raw and searingly beautiful live. “Girl in Amber” and “Distant Sky” were emotional and heartbreaking, and though Else Torpe only appeared on a video projection during “Distant Sky”, her plaintive voice soared through the auditorium and was deeply affecting. Cave was at his most vulnerable during “I Need You”, his voice wavering and howling. These gorgeous, cathartic moments held the audience in a hushed reverie, and I know I wasn’t the only one moved to tears.
After closing the set with “Skeleton Tree” the band returned for a fantastic five song encore, including “Mermaids”, “God is in the House”, “Nobody’s Baby Now”, a thrilling rendition of “Stagger Lee” which received a rapturous response, finishing with the haunting, ethereal “Push the Sky Away”. It was a suitably intimate end to a stunning show. Cave leaned into the crowd, whispering “you’ve got to just keep on pushing, and keep on pushing and push the sky away”, the crowd singing softly in unison.
I was spellbound by this show and was left elated and grinning at the end. I was a fan before, and am now an ardent devotee. I’m not sure anything else this year will match the intense glory of this show, but I am grateful for being there. Weeks later I’m still thinking about it, and listening to his music with greater appreciation.
It was pure magic. And we could all use a bit of that right now.