It was May 2001, and a lot had changed in my life since the very eventful day of my last gig, just over a month previously. I’d spent that day doubled over with abdominal pain, which was still in evidence the following Monday at work. So I was gently shoved out the door by my worried colleagues and sent off to see my GP. She sent me for a scan, the scan revealed a large ovarian cyst, and so I was now in the middle of a nervous time, waiting for a hospital appointment, with surgery on the horizon and my eventual diagnosis – endometriosis – still uncertain.
But that wasn’t all that was new in my life! After more than four years in my tiny room on the fourth floor of the Brompton Hospital’s Nurses’ Home, I had finally convinced the accommodation office to upgrade me to one of the bigger rooms across the road, in a block of Georgian houses in Foulis Terrace that the hospital owned. So I was now dwelling in a basement room at least three times the size of my previous one, a veritable palace of luxury compared to what I’d experienced for the previous four years. And the first gig I set out to from my new home was this one, my second time to see Nick Cave.
It had been quite a long road for me into Nick Cave fandom. I remember being highly intrigued by him in the late 80s, and even bought “The Ship Song” on cassette single (those were the days!) But sometimes the video for his earlier tune “The Mercy Seat” would pop up on the late night music shows, and it was far too frightening for 14 year old me to welcome into my life. So, despite being hugely impressed by the Bad Seeds’ set at my first ever proper gig, the Big Day Out festival in 1993, it wasn’t until 1998 that I finally became a proper fan, when I was in the midst of a bleak depression and needed the darkly uplifting tunes of Nick to get me through the days.
And now it was my first chance to see Nick in London. The recent album “No More Shall We Part” had captivated me completely with its strange melancholy, and I was very excited to see the band again. So much so that, even though my last gig had taught me that it’s quite good to hang back in the crowd sometimes instead of rushing straight to the barrier, old habits really die hard. From my diary:
“So. Down the front! Well why not. Got there round eightish. Momentarily amused to discover the support band was one of my most hated Oz bands of yore – Dave Graney – they were quite good actually, but so goddamn loud! I wondered whether it’s be wise to stay there for the whole gig, but I could not relinquish the opportunity for a close-up glimpse of Nick. And I mean it has been like eight years since I last saw them, which lest we forget was just about the first time I saw ANYONE, and anyway, the moment they came on, wandered about slightly aimlessly for a bit, and then shattered the silence with the quietly heartbreaking “As I Sat Sadly By Her Side” I knew I’d made the right decision.”
After this opening song, Nick and the band carried on with more songs from the latest album, which was absolutely fine by me. “They just glide gorgeously on with “Oh My Lord” and it’s quite clear that they could just do every single tune from the new album and it would still be a moving, arresting gig.“
However, me being me, it wouldn’t be a gig report without some moments of appreciation of one or two of the men on stage. I may not have fancied Nick the way I did Paul Draper or Neil Codling, but I was still very impressed by his presence.
“Nick was just exactly the same possessed stick insect he was back at that Big Day Out ages ago, for all the world as though only a week or so has passed since January ’93. He didn’t say much, and sadly never ventured too close to my edge of the crowd, preferring to thrash about at the very front and near the middle, but that actually gave me an interesting view of him, blinded by the piercing white light which cast a large silhouette of his flailing, passion-gripped figure onto the white pillars at the other side. Very dramatic. “
And as if Nick weren’t enough, there was also another legendary rock’n’roll presence to be impressed with – Blixa Bargeld.
“And Blixa! Two genius art/rock gods for the price of none! (considering what you usually get for twenty quid these days). Blixa was decadent sophistication personified and nowhere near as flabbed out as I recall him from the Einsturzende Neubauten gig of Sept ’97. Though that was probably helped by his hip’n’suave suit. “The Weeping Song” RULED and we all screamed obsessively as Blixa began to sing.”
Having begun with a brace of new tunes, the band soon entered the realm of Bad Seeds classics.
“They do Henry Lee” and “Red Right Hand”, and just as I was wondering whether they’d do any of my favourite faves, they do “Do You Love Me” and “The Ship Song” just like that. It’s all ear-crunchingly loud and the mix is somewhat dodge so you’ve just got to abandon yourself to it and ignore the feedback squall that now adorns “The Ship Song” as you sway along. And god there was “Papa Won’t Leave You Henry” at one point, storming and quite frankly satanically scary due to the demented loudness..”
But while revelling in the many amazing songs on show that night, there was one song that I wanted to hear most of all, the song that had so haunted my early years as a music fan.
“At this stage you just can’t help but marvel at the excessive brilliance of the Bad Seeds back catalogue, tune after tune of genius thrills, heart breaking melancholy, cathartic violence and fury, it’s all there. All encapsulated in that one song that disturbed me so back when I was 14, indeed, one of the greatest songs of all time, “The Mercy Seat”. They finished the main set with it, starting slower, pondering imminent fate, speeding up as Nick hollers out the more and more desperately doomed lyrics: “like a moth that tries to enter the bright eye, so I go stumbling out of life, just to hide in death awhile…” Beautiful cacophony.”
After that, the first tune of the first encore “Into My Arms” was “unbearably pure and good.” The second song of the encore was “this utterly fab anthemic tune of blues’n’soul’n’melody and I’ve no idea what it was!” A quick perusal of setlist.fm tells me that it was “Long Time Man”, a cover of a song by Tim Rose, who I must admit I’ve never heard of.
The final song was “The Curse of Millhaven” which “went on for three centuries but at least it gave him the chance to introduce the band in between verses.”
And I was left to wander to the merch stall to buy a programme and a keyring and make my way home. It was a wonderful gig to be sure, but it’s overshadowed in my memory by the Bad Seeds gigs I went to in 2003, which are up there with the greatest gigs of my life. But they’re a story to be told in blog posts to come.