I have to admit, I was not in the most gigtastic of spirits as I set out for this concert. Instead of a typical crisp and cool October night, the weather was intensely warm and humid, giving my journey to the Royal Albert Hall an eerie, otherworldly feel. The murky closeness of the atmosphere carried on right until I was in my seat at the back of the arena, feeling uncomfortably sweaty and somewhat discombobulated.
But none of this mattered as soon as Nick and Warren took the stage. Arriving to the mournful synths that open “The Spinning Song” from the 2019 Bad Seeds album “Ghosteen”, the atmosphere changed: instead of stuffy discomfort, we were inhabiting the aura that suffuses Nick’s two most recent albums – that of aching beauty and desperate sadness mingled with an intense sense of hope and joy.
When I last saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in 2017, at an O2 gig for the tour of “Skeleton Tree”, I found myself feeling that such sombre songs would have been more suited to a sit-down gig like this at the Royal Albert Hall. But as I was sitting in that venue to witness him perform tracks from “Ghosteen” and “Carnage” – arguably even more sombre than the album preceding them – I actually found myself reversing this wish. With such beautiful and emotion-fueled songs as these, the constant distraction of people leaping up to go to the loo or the bar diluted the intensity of the atmosphere just a tad. Despite the fact that there was little to mosh or dance to this evening, I would have preferred to be in the thick of a standing crowd, able to immerse myself completely in the brilliance of Nick and Warren, rather than watching the endless movements of the audience.
Still, that could not detract too much from the wonder of this gig. Nick was in absolutely astounding voice and as full of energy and passion as when I first saw him live nearly 29 years ago. Despite the darkness of many of the grief-fuelled songs in the setlist, his sense of humour was never far away. He introduced the third song, the elegiac and reflective “Night Raid”, as “a song about joy”, before adding knowingly, “well, it’s as joyful as it gets”
Nick’s gentle, wry humour was most in evidence when engaging with the largely silent Warren Ellis. Warren’s violin solo in the stunning cover of T Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer” got huge applause. During the the next song “God Is In The House” Nick remarked “the applause gets less every time” which prompted the crowd to erupt into huge cheers for Warren. And following the quietly yearning “God Is In The House” with the apocalyptic “Hand of God” was a stroke of genius. The latter song was the closest this gig got to the prowling menacing figure of Nick in other eras.
For me, this evening reached a peak of emotion at the first encore song “Hollywood”. I have never been able to listen to this song without crying, and this night was no exception. The tale of the bereaved mother coming into acceptance of the loss of her child, and the inevitability of loss in any person’s life, is expressed so perfectly and completely that even I, who have never experienced such a loss, feel it keenly every time this song is played. Luckily I had foreseen this eventuality and had brought tissues with me, so was able to make myself presentable in time for the second song of the encore, an utterly stunning rendition of “Henry Lee” with one of his remarkable trio of backing singers.
But the image that will stay with me from this evening, imprinted on my mind, is of the penultimate song “Into My Arms”, with Nick solo on piano encircled in multiple beams of white light. Finally, the crowd was still, and it was a perfect moment of calm.
A repeated theme of the lyrics in “Ghosteen” is of a search for peace, and spending an evening like this with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis provides a brief oasis of peace and calm in a turbulent world. For anyone with a troubled heart or worried mind, there can be no better remedy.