A storming and astonishing gig from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
‘Do you know who IS rock’n’roll? Nick Cave’s violin player that’s who! The manic fury with which he splices those strings, frenzied mane of rawk hair a-flail, kicking and writhing and then, in other songs, strumming it like it was a toy guitar! But so COOL!
Nick Cave though. My god, just brilliant.‘
So begins my diary entry for this, my third Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gig. It was early June 2003, and it’s safe to say I was in a pretty damn good mood. I’d just made it through a week of exams at the end of my first year of my Psychology Diploma, and was looking forward to a summer of being able to do absolutely anything I wanted to do in my free time without feeling guilty about not studying. And what better way to celebrate than going to a gig?
Well, by going to two gigs, obviously. Two Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gigs, which just so happened to be amongst the best gigs I’ve ever been to.
In summer 2003 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were touring their latest album “Nocturama”, including three consecutive nights at the Hammersmith Apollo. Initially, I booked myself a ticket for just the Friday night. But it didn’t take very long for me to realise that just one gig was not going to be enough.
But first, before the amazingness of Nick, there was the support to get though. As with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ 2001 tour, I found myself bombarded with memories of my early 90s life as a teen in Australia listening to triple J. From my diary: ‘Support was amusing, another Oz semi-legend in the shape of Chris Bailey of the Saints who verily oozed irony as he thanked us for clapping so politely. And “Stranded” is a tune, and I knew a few others from dim dusty triple J memories.‘
But it was Nick Cave I was there to see, and despite having thrilled to his live presence twice previously, I was not prepared for how overwhelmed I would be by his brilliance on this night.
‘Nick Cave, though. Had I forgotten how much I love him and the Bad Seeds? Or have I never loved them quite as much as I did tonight? From the first few notes of the opening “Wonderful Life” I was deeply regretting the fact that I don’t have tickets for Saturday and Sunday’s gigs as well. Everything was indeed wonderful, the band careening from shocking to soothing and Nick’s singing arrestingly beautiful.’
It also seemed like it was a new kind of Bad Seeds gig to the ones I’d previously attended. For one thing, it was the first time I’d seen Nick take to the piano during his performance, at least as far as memory served me.
‘And he’s at the piano! I don’t recall that happening at Brixton or the Big Day Out. Then he gets up and strides about in that deranged stick insect way of his to tunes like “Red Right Hand” and “Do You Love Me”. It’s a storming gig.‘
And some classic tunes were brilliantly reinvented for this gig. ‘Especially “Henry Lee” which morphed amazingly from snoresome ballad to frothing rock monster. And “West Country Girl” was embellished with apocalyptic keyboards which I don’t remember from the album but I’m probably wrong as I’ve been severely neglecting my Nick Cave fan duties of late have I not? The shame!’
I definitely felt a shift in my fan allegiances that night. I’d loved Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds songs for many years, and had long considered myself a big fan. But this night, Nick Cave became something more to me.
‘Tonight, just for tonight, I wanted no other idol.’
I had a good view from my seat, and had been planning to have a sedate, sit-down gig after my knackering week of exams. But things were to change as the gig zoomed into its second half.
‘Ah “Bring It On” was just perfect too, but it’s all a bit hard to recall stuff from the first half, stuff from before Nick, who had politely bantered with the front rows all night, replied to some complaint posed by one front-rower with “of course you can stand up!” Which started a tentative wave of upspringing ‘til we were all on our feet, at which point he said, “this is more of a sit down song really”. Ha!‘
Said sitting-appropriate song was the crookedly gorgeous “Watching Alice”, but the crowd had definitely had enough of sitting down for the night. Especially me.
‘The throng was now down-the-frontwardly mobile, and I naturally followed. It was great to be standing up, and a fair bit closer, for wonderful tunes like “Alice”, and “The Mercy Seat” piano version, and “Christina The Astonishing”. But security were holding us back and periodically telling us to go back to our seats, which was futile, distracting and annoying.‘
But eventually security gave up on their pointless manoeuvres, and this is when the gig blazed into even more astonishing territory.
‘I was able to get six or seven rows from the front and my god, then they did “From Her To Eternity”. Christ! So goddamn brilliant to be so close – the lack of barrier meant I was closer even than at Brixton when I was down the front – Nick Cave right there, a whisper out of reach, possessed and pointing, screaming, reeling. I have never been so close to such an icon, in the throes of being iconic.‘
But if that was untouchably brilliant, the encores were something else entirely.
‘And then, in the first encore, they did “Tupelo”, and it was even more fucking amazing. They hadn’t played it for years, apparently, and I’m not sure if its perfection was due to or in spite of that fact. How can I describe it? It all hinges on that refrain, that moment in “tupeloooooo” when the note changes, breaking the murderous tension only to build it up again, over and over again. Imagine that played out before you.
Then imagine a second encore consisting of “Into My Arms” and “Deanna”. God! “I ain’t down here for your money, ain’t down here for your love, ain’t down here for your love or money, I’m down here for your soul”… I mean, they didn’t do “The Ship Song” or “Straight To You” and yet, I cannot complain. Not when the gig ends as screamingly stormingly BRILLIANT as that.‘
It was, without a doubt, the best gig I’d been to all year, and something of a revelation. My levels of adoration for Nick and the band shot into stratospheric levels that night, and I felt an intense need to see them again IMMEDIATELY. So the first thing I did on the Saturday morning was to race to Stargreen Box Office, and to my joy, I was able to procure a ticket for the Sunday night’s gig.
And a good thing too, because while this Friday night’s gig had been amazing, astonishing, and incredible, the gig on Sunday night would be even better.