My eighth time seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds felt very different to previous gigs I’d been to from the band. This 2017 tour was for their most recent album “Skeleton Tree”, which had been released following the tragic and sudden death of Nick’s son. Although I found it a brilliant album, the sense of grief and loss permeating through it made it not one I felt brave enough to listen to very many times before heading out to this gig at the O2. And the hugeness of the venue itself made it feel somewhat odd place to showcase such intimately emotional songs.
Still, out I ventured this autumn evening to once again witness the band responsible for some of the greatest gigs in my life, such as the Hammersmith Apollo shows in 2003. My gigging life had taken a tumble recently, with a ferocious flu scuppering my plans to see Paul Draper earlier in the month, so I was pleased to actually find myself able once again to head out for gigging adventures. And I certainly had an adventure in store for me this night. The first thing I wrote about when I got home was something quite extraordinary that happened at the very end of the gig. From my diary:
‘There I was, in the throng, pushed and jostled by the masses as we tried to get closer and closer to Nick, and there HE was, so close at times, wandering through the crowd during “Stagger Lee”, and how I wish I’d joined the stage invaders, but I wanted a chance at being at the barrier, hence, mayhem.
There he was, my old undying friend, my first gig, and my latest, never changing and yet always new.’
The stage invasion that ended the gig, where Nick wandered through the crowd as described before inviting a sizable throng of people onto the stage to witness him singing at close quarters, was something that had been widely reported as a highlight of this particular tour. I did regret afterwards not taking part, because what on earth could match the experience of standing so close to Nick as he performed on the stage of the O2? But then, I have always loved the separation between star and fan, the feeling of being in an audience, witnessing an amazing person doing incredible things. So I can’t be too hard on myself for declining this opportunity to share the stage with Nick.
However, I have started this report as I started my diary entry, at the end of the gig. What had happened in the hour or so leading up to the stage invasion? It was, as mentioned, quite different to anything I’d witnessed from Nick before.
‘It’s hard to know what sort of handle to take on last night’s gig. It was great to actually make it, boosting my confidence after missing the Draper gigs. And to venture close to the front, starting about twelve rows back to the far left, edging forwards and inwards until the total chaos at the end. I have no idea when I was last so thrashed and crushed by the crowd and it was kind of terrifyingly amazing. The crowd seemed to span decades from teens to fiftysomethings, about 70:30 men to women, but I felt comfortable, no wankers or weirdos in my corner.’
Overall, this was not a gig that rose to the heights of my incredible memories from 2003, but this was not the fault of Nick or the band.
‘Maybe it was the size of the venue, or the focus on less familiar recent albums, but I did not feel so completely engaged and engulfed as I recall from past Nick gigs. Not that he was anything other than completely masterfully compelling, but it was kind of a gig of two moods. The recent tunes certainly sounded sweeping and epic in the O2’s cavernous gigantitude, but would really be better suited to a sit down affair at eg Royal Albert Hall. ‘
I have, of course, recently had the opportunity to witness just that, as I watched Nick Cave and Warren Ellis performing songs from the two more recent albums “Ghosteen” and “Carnage” at the Royal Albert Hall in October. At that show, annoyed by the endless distractions from crowd members leaping up to go to the bar or the loo, I actually found myself wishing to be back in the throng as I was for this gig at the O2. It seems that I am very hard to please when it comes to venues for hearing Nick Cave sing.
‘And then there was the jump’n’pointalong wonders like “Red Right Hand” and gloriously “The Weeping Song” with Nick taking on the parts of both Father and Son. And “Tupelo”! And then I was hollering long to “Mercy Seat”, that song that terrified me so much when I was 14, that it took me nine more years to properly become a fan.‘‘
All in all, despite the many delights on offer this evening, my main takeaway of the gig was this: ‘I still would have preferred to be at Brixton.’ So here’s hoping that I’ll get the chance to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Brixton Academy at least one more time before he retires from the stage.
And one final thing: at the O2 they always steal your ticket, so please enjoy this work of art I made with my wristband to stick into my diary in the place of a ticket stub:
Categories: All the gigs of my life