30th Oct 2013
Nick Cave and Manchester got some history.
A history that starts in chaotic confrontation and ends in acceptance of a song writing masterclass.
Before the gig tonight we were recalling those mad times in the middle of acid house when the Bad Seeds chose to rehearse in the city for some tour and Nick Cave went to the much loved Goth/psyche club The Playpen for a night on the tiles.
Slumped over the bar he was spotted by a couple of local music loons who mistook him for ‘the most perfect Nick Cave lookalike’ they had ever seen and took him back to their Hulme hovel for a night of craziness where a further lubricated Cave played harmonica along to Howling Wolf records all night and danced around the flat- it was at this point that they realised they had the real Caveman in their midst and panicked remembering he was due to play a show at the International 2 that night.
The gig later on had an apologetic Cave sat on the drum riser burned out by the then typical Manchester Tuesday night out when lunacy and the dawn were often freaky bed fellows.
We remembered those great Birthday Party gigs at the Hacienda, the chaos, the blood and the great incendiary music of one of the great rock n roll bands at their confrontational and intellectual A bomb best. We recalled the half full Ritz show in the early solo days when this kind of stuff was still fringe, with Blixa in leather with a cod piece and the band looking like pin stripe droogs in a Wild West saloon shoot out.
Then there was the last time at the Apollo where we hung out backstage with the band and they made us juices on their whirring juicer and were great fun to be with after another great show.
It then suddenly occurred to us that Nick Cave must have played Manchester more than any other city and then finally there was tonight…
This was a staggering staggerlee two hours of perfection, the Cave personae further elevated to a switchblade Las Vegas showman, biblical shaman and last survivor from rock n roll when it was a desperate, dangerous and highly intelligent beast that lived on its nerves and its words were were shards of deathly poetry. Tonight there was the full exploration of every nuance and style of the Cave sound, from the plaintive soul-searching ballads to the atmospheric pieces like Red Right Hand, to the sex swagger of Stagger Lee.
The band’s audacious two hour set starts off with a low key and yet seductive take on We No Who U R which defies its text speak title with a song full of subtle textures that normally would kill a gig intro dead but in the hands of a masterful band like this is a masterstroke, with its addictive gloom filling the cavernous Apollo.
The Push The Sky Away album is represented again with the second track, the mighty Jubilee Street, which, with its nagging guitar hook and unfurling lyric is a masterpiece in subtle yet powerful songwriting. Cave interacts with a girl in the crowd but it’s not a ‘Glastonbury moment’- that transfixed freeze frame of lust that was caught on youtube and defined the band’s spectacular slot at the summer festival.
The song builds to an amazing crescendo as it gets faster/louder/harder meanwhile Cave moves maniacally between the piano and crowd, throwing the mic down like a psychotic take on a Las Vegas lounge lizard from a new kind of hell.
After this confident setting the stall with the new songs, the band lock back into the classics with a run of songs that have soundtracked many a bedsit youth before it expands into the suburban wealth of middle age with the brooding Tupelo. This is a song which seeps Deep South biblical treachery and a sparse reconstruction of the blues into the then post punk soundscape. This is followed with the demonic velvet of Red Right Hand and the touching Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry- a triumphant trio of standards before returning to the new album, which was his first number one in the UK, with the smouldering Mermaids.
The band is really in gear, getting Barry Adamson back on board is a masterstroke and it’s a hometown gig for the former Moss Side maestro who seems to be able to play any instrument thrown at him- the weirder the better- and has the spectacular cool aura floating around him that was always part of his schtick from his youthful days in Magazine through to his stint in the Birthday Party and his solo soundtrack albums.
Warren Ellis is the perfect foil for Cave, chucking his violin bow into the backdrop or sticking it into his collar like he has just been hit by an arrow in some dark and satanic western. His beard bristles with intent and he cuts a bizarre yet charismatic shape on the stage as he balances out the intense, twitching antics of his singer.
This is a band that looks and plays like no other- each member is a character in some kind of biblical play or a furry gunslinger in some sepia toned snapshot of a dark past. They still look like a gang with a fistful of napalm and guardians of some smouldering truth.
There is even some audience interaction- at one point Nick shouts ‘Put your fucking phone down!’ to a member of the audience taking photos but then at another time he asks to have his photo taken and ‘poses’ in the spotlight. He is quite playful with the crowd – teasing them and conducting what feels like the Bad Seed Orchestra of malevolent misfits and musical Mafioso, and at times even the audience as well.
The group play with a rare intensity and passion that is overwhelming and that seems to even overwhelm Nick, who introduces the next song as West Country Girl before realising that it’s actually From Her To Eternity and claiming that he is ‘confused’. There is none of that kind of confusion in the song- it falls from the speakers like a slab of hell with the jabbing piano part, the growling backbeat- a perfect example of the stripped down, danger blues of the band’s early period.
West Country Girl is plaintive whilst God Is In The House is a masterstroke as it opens the stripped down middle section with virtually just Cave and his piano daring to bring the Apollo down to a ‘pin drop’ silence as he instructs the crowd to be very quiet, asking them to ‘Shhhh!’ – and so they do, almost beckoning him into the hypnotic void of silence to deliver a spiritual truth – then, of course, someone shouts Hallelujah! and the violin gets a ‘wolf whistle’ which brings a titter before we return to the serious business of Nick and his open letter to a diety.
People Ain’t No Good sees Barry Adamson reach for his glockenspiel and the neo lullaby of Into My Arms gets the crowd singing along as it completes the sparse section of the set before we return to the current album, which is fast becoming one of our favourites in the Cave canon with Higgs Boson Blues. The song sees the spindly singer remove his jacket like he means business after the quieter songs as he leans into the crowd and asks “Can you feel my heart beat?” with the crowd’s hands placed on his chest. I think you can feel his heart beat across the whole city tonight- it’s that kind of show.
Hiding All Away is another loud one, pleading there is a war coming whilst even the band’s most loved song, The Mercy Seat, is almost lost in the set that is now so stuffed full of classics that there can be no single highlight any more. The song’s creepy crawly intro is played out on an acoustic guitar and as the songs builds to its suffocating and fearful climax of redemption and singed flesh it sets the night up perfectly for the loping blues of the classic Stagger Lee- the song with the ultimate swagger that tees the set up for the climactic Push The Sky Away album title track.
The band return for a lengthy encore of initially We Real Cool, with Warren Ellis making a flute seem like shamanic rock n roll tool even with Nick Cave hovering near him putting him off. Jack The Ripper is an exercise in tension and drama, Deanna is sixties beat beauty- like some kinda psychotic Dave Clarke 5 or Brian Jones Stones caveman beat. It is a stomping high point, a shimmering exercise in climactic set enders and an obvious way to finish a classic set.
Of course the set can’t end here- being obvious is not in the Bad Seeds lexicon and they bring it back down in a masterful way with a new song- a quiet and intense piece called Give Us A Kiss with Nick jokingly asking for a ‘G” before the song unfolds- surely this is final proof of the mastery of the band- they dare to bring it down and still make it work.
It’s been a long and frankly strange path of belligerent and brilliant creativity but the Boys Next Door are finally the wisdom stained men upstairs- the best rock n roll band in the world?