Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, O2 Arena review - intimate emotional release An exhilarating evening wi
Monday, 02 October 2017
Nick Cave walked onto a simple black stage and quietly perched on a stool. He took a deep breath and launched into "Anthrocene". "This sweet world is so much older," he sang with arms outstretched. His huge baritone voice travelled across the arena as if he'd been playing them for years. In fact, this is his first stadium tour. It's a move that's partly been prompted by Cave's ever-increasing profile as an artist. One imagines it's also because of a fundamental change that's happened in him as a person.
The reason for that change is well known. A catastrophic event occurred during the recording of 2016's Skeleton Tree, which this tour promotes: Cave's 15-year-old son, Arthur, took LSD and died in a tragic fall. The story of how Cave eventually finished recording Skeleton Tree is chronicled in the documentary, One More Time with Feeling. It tells how Cave needed to keep on working, and how he ended up with one of the most extraordinary albums of his career. Many thought that afterwards he'd retreat from the public eye.
Maybe it was a direct response to his decision to keep playing, or just a general love of Cave's music, but the atmosphere in the O2 was electrifying. The warmth and affection made the huge space feel more like a rock'n'roll club. And, after the opening number, that was how Cave played it. For the first hour, he sang from the front, barely letting go of the hands of audience-members that appeared in front of him. When he wasn't perched in front of his fans, he was diving on top of them. Two black and white video screens projected close-ups of the artist/audience interaction across the venue.
This wasn't the only time the Bad Seeds held back, before hitting you with a musical smack in the faceIf the opening songs were often desolate, "Higgs-Boson Blues" and "Jubilee Street" were simply intense. The former took us on a bizarre eight-minute journey to Geneva via episodes with Robert Johnson and Hannah Montana. When Cave sang "boom, boom can you feel my heart beat?" the words punched through the air like a defibrillator. "Jubilee Street" was equally epic: For four minutes Cave sang about temptation and retribution while the sound of the band gradually grew. Then five minutes in, all hell broke loose.
The song's climax may have sounded like chaos but, in fact, it was executed with the utmost precision. This wasn't the only time the Bad Seeds held back, before hitting you with a musical smack in the face. "From Her to Eternity" and "Tupelo" felt as brutal as anything they've has ever played. The band were expertly led, as always, by the wildly-bearded Australian multi-instrumentalist, Warren Ellis, who played his violin like a Fender Stratocaster.
At the other end of the spectrum, the evening's slower numbers were both raw and beautiful. "I Need You" saw Cave on his knees, repeating the lines "Nothing really matters when the one you love is gone", like an incantation. "Distant Sky" took this mood of vulnerability and turned it into something a little more at ease with itself. Else Torp's gorgeous vocal performance from Skeleton Tree, played on a tape, contributed to this brief moment of serenity. But now the time had come for a final change of pace.
Throughout the encore, Cave wandered freely amongst the crowd. He sang "The Weeping Song" perched on a barrier halfway down the auditorium. When he returned to the stage he brought 30-odd members of the crowd with him. It made for a rendition of "Stagger Lee" that was both exhilarating and uplifting. When the song ended, Cave disappeared again. The next time the camera caught up with him he was in the terraces standing next to Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie, whom he'd happened upon. Overcome by his own spontaneity, Cave handed Gillispie the mic for the concert's final couplet. The evening ended with a moment of almost joyous calm and Gillespie singing: "you've got to keep pushing/push the sky away".