Just last week, Nick Cave celebrated his 60th birthday – not an unusual landmark for a rock’n’roll star, in fact, increasingly common. Yet it was hard to reconcile the swaggering, possessed preacher on – and quite frequently off – stage with the realisation that this charismatic character is now eligible for a free bus pass. True, black hair dye can cover a multitude of sins but Nick Cave seems to transcend age. You might say he is in his prime - but his entire performing career has been his prime.
Nick Cave ****
There were a couple of other considerations which made this typically wonderful Bad Seeds gig so remarkable. First, the setlist was heavily weighted in favour of Cave’s most recent album, Skeleton Tree, an oppressively dark, muted affair, even by Cave’s standards, in that it was written in the aftermath of the tragic death of his teenage son Arthur. Second, these songs were being aired in the most unforgiving hangar-like surroundings for a band used to touring the ornate theatres and fleapit dancehalls of the world.
But from the opening bars of this two-hour-plus set, when the Bad Seeds’ broody rumble could be felt reverberating right through the tiered seats and Cave’s voice rang out rich and true, it was clear that this veteran band on their debut arena tour would have no trouble not just reaching the furthest recesses of this cavernous, clinical venue but pulling them close in an intimate, intense hug.
Magneto was so sparsely and subtly rendered, you could pick up from the back of the room the excited squeals of the handful of fans with whom Cave interacted at the lip of the stage. But the larger venue simply meant more acolytes in the front row and soon enough there were hands grabbing from all directions, eager to touch the hem of his garment (or thereabouts). Rather than retreat to safety, Cave ploughed on and, later, waded in to the crowd for a most theatrical communion.
En route, he serenaded with his two most enduring ballads, The Ship Song and Into My Arms, stirred up a classic Bad Seeds maelstrom on Jubilee Street and orchestrated the escalating frenzy of The Mercy Seat before leading a horde Pied Piper-like on to the stage for the gothic blues of Stagger Lee, at which point Nick Cave and all who sailed with him realised how much he relished playing arenas.