Quite simply, one of the best gigs of my life.
Sometimes, there’s no better way to start a blog post about a gig than with the words I scribbled into my diary immediately upon getting home from it.
They played the fucking Ship Song!!!
My legs are splattered with bruises from when I was crushed against the FRONT ROW of seats towards the end of this astounding, amazing, just joyously screamingly BRILLIANT gig!‘
Having been utterly shocked and thrilled by the brilliance of Nick’s Friday night gig at the Hammersmith Apollo, I’d raced out the next morning to try and procure a ticket to the Saturday or Sunday show. I managed to get one for this gig on the Sunday – a standing ticket, which in strange Apollo ways actually meant standing behind the seats. Not my favourite gig position, but I didn’t care – all I wanted was to be there and to experience the amazingness of Nick again. And it didn’t matter, in the end, because standing at the back didn’t didn’t have a chance once Nick took to the stage.
‘Yes, the standing behind the throng thing didn’t last very long. Lasted precisely up to the moment Nick strode on and said “you can stand up, sit down, do whatever you like”. In a flicker of a second I was in the centre aisle, about level with the sixth row of seats, and steadily moved forward during the course of the gig. The GIG!‘
The Friday night gig had been incredible, but I’d I spent the first half of it sitting down, halfway back in the stalls. This Sunday night, being able to squeeze myself into a position as close to Nick as possible as soon as he took the stage, made it so much more special.
‘Now THIS was a real gig. Oh god, just unbelievable, being so close. The setlist was very similar to Friday, beginning with the unspeakably beautiful “Wonderful Life” – “…if you can find it…” and then, prowling the stage with “Red Right Hand” and god, it was just so EXCITING when he would come up to the edge of the stage and point and sing and holler, and the lighting! Those expertly timed flashes during the demonic organ solo were just inspired and everyone cheered.’
Everything I’d felt on Friday night was intensified here.
‘It was all so brilliant you know, that pounding organ riff in “West Country Girl”, the pleading, heart-breaking “Hallelujah”, and “Tupelo” moved earlier on, a rampant raging joy. It just felt like such a privilege to be within touching distance of such a legendary performer, singing such legendary songs, yet to say that, makes it sound emotionally distant, when it could not have been more powerful, uplifting, moving. I have not screamed and sang and just let go and danced and got crushed like I did tonight for many many months, certainly years since I did so for any band not the Manics.‘
This 2003 tour had marked a change to the Bad Seeds line-up, losing their key member Blixa Bargeld. But at these gigs I was so mesmerised by Nick himself that I barely noticed.
‘It’s saying something that I’ve scribbled thus far on Nick Cave weekend without mentioning something kind of major, which is: Blixa is no longer in the band. Well scandalously, I barely noticed except for when people shouted out for him, to which Nick would patiently explain that Blixa was not there. But well, it didn’t matter really. In the few micromilliseconds that I would tear my eyes away from Nick, there was the violinist who, closer up, looks like a rather taller and decidedly more rawk’n’roll Pippin from Lord of the Rings.‘
The crowd were extremely vocal this night. ‘Every silent second was punctuated with calls for “The Ship Song”! “Mercy Seat”! “Dead Man In My Bed”! “Stagger Lee” was especially popular though Nick dismissed it as too indecent.
Nick: “we can do any song except for “The Weeping Song”.‘
By the time “From Her To Eternity” came round in the latter part of the set I was only about three rows from the stage and completely lost in the glory of Nick. ‘I was in total arms in the air, waving and pointing and shouting along like I’ve been a Nick disciple all my life. Which is how I felt in a way.‘
From this position, the last few songs of the main set were truly awe inspiring.
‘“The Mercy Seat” was unbelievable. So much more powerful than Friday, when we were all fending off the well-meaning security types. Tonight, it truly was awesome: a “ballad” version maybe, but so powerful, singing along to it, those words like “like some ragged stranger, died upon the cross and might I say, seems so fitting in its way, he was a carpenter by trade… in heaven his throne is made of gold… down here it’s made of wood and wire, and my body is on fire” A work of genius unfolded before us. It was a great, great moment.’
Following this was a Birthday Party song, which I was unfamiliar with. ‘I’m guessing it was called “Wild” and it featured Nick on the piano irreverently bashing the keys in a way that makes me, with my fingers bearing the scars of years and years of arpeggio practice, want to love him forever. And then he got up and was just screaming “hey!” right there in front of us, again, and it was brilliant. Again.’
The band left the stage, ‘and there is much screaming, much stomping, and finally they return and do the Johnny Cash tune “The Singer” before the outright barrage of demented abandon that was “Do You Love Me” and “Deanna”.’
It was now time to risk life and limb for the sake of being as close as possible to our beloved rock god. ‘This was when the big surge came, the mosh kicked in and I was shoved and squeezed towards the front row of seats, with one leg to either side of the arm rest. Had another big push occurred against me my leg could very well have snapped in two. But did I care!!! I was a total freak obsessive Nick-worshipper by this point and my arms were permanently aloft, held up to Nick, my hands within millimetres of his, screaming “Do you looooove me LIKE I LOVE YOU!!!!” and all that.’
If there’s one memory of this night that shines brightly to the present day, sixteen and a half years after this incredible night, it’s how I felt in the brief, chaotic pause between first and second encore.
‘And they were off again and I sat down on my arm rest to recover and just so, so, so thrilled to be where I was at that moment in time.’
It’s not often you get a moment when you know that there’s nowhere else in the whole world you’d rather be than right where you are, but crushed and bruised as I was, throat torn to shreds and perched precariously on an Apollo armrest, I knew I was in the absolute best place on earth, that moment.
And to top it off, they final song was my favourite of theirs, the one that had introduced me to the magnificence of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fourteen years earlier.
‘Finally, the band return and play “The Ship Song”, a kind of strumming, country-esque version and I holler along and hold my arms out to Nick like he owns my soul. Which, for a second, he did. At the end I strained towards him, call his name, so wanted to shake his hand or something, but it did not happen. I cannot complain, however. I’ve just been to a gig that’s up there with the best, as exhiliarating as my most scream-inducing moments of ’97. That’s a lot to be happy about.’
I mentioned 1997 there as that was my first year in London, and my first year of being able to see all the bands that I loved after spending my teen years in Australia. I went to some incredible gigs that year, and it stuck in my memory as a golden age for seeing bands live. But what I didn’t quite realise, as I stumbled my way home from this wonderful gig, was that 2003 would end up being every bit of 1997’s equal in terms of incredible gigging experiences. And this weekend of two shocking and stunning Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gigs were the stunning epicentre of one of the best years of my life.