The willowy, lurking figure on stage at Her Majestys Theatre tonight cuts an unmistakable silhouette: Nick Cave, dressed all in black, prowls across it to mark the beginning of a particularly auspicious showcase of the Bad Seeds’ new record, Push The Sky Away. The breathless anticipation in the room is palpable.
The unassuming single ‘We No Who U R’ kicks things off in typically ominous fashion and what follows is a deconstructed mania in the dark recesses of ‘Waters Edge’. ‘Jubilee Street’ is unexpectedly epic and provides the first spine tingling moment of the night; an altogether different beast than on record it builds relentlessly into a marvellous, roaring crescendo. ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ benefits hugely from the shimmering strings courtesy of the on stage orchestra while the lyrics to ‘Mermaids’ prove Cave hasn’t lost his knack for a wonderfully perverted verse in the form of “She was a catch/We were a match/I was the match that would fire up her snatch”!
As if the straight up, stomping rock of Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! is a world away, the new album sounds vast and ambitious but couldn’t be less subdued. As eerie and wild as ever and channelled through a constant focus and clarity of vision, tonight they prove that for all the side projects and line up shuffles, their strange, sinister hearts are still very much in it.
For all the new album frenzy, it’s obvious that the crowd are still hungry for The Seeds to dip into their vast legacy, as are the men on stage for it doesn’t take them long to oblige. ‘From Her to Eternity’ is a force of nature, seeing Warren Ellis conducting the orchestra in a captivatingly unhinged manner. ‘Red Right Hand’ is indulgently bleak, its organs more funereal than ever. ‘O Children’ fittingly employs the voices of the children’s choir onstage – a perfectly beautiful, angelic balance to Cave’s seductively menacing baritone, which then spits its way through ‘Jack the Ripper’.
In ‘Love letter’ and ‘The Ship Song’, Cave illustrates that behind their abject weirdness and homicidal subject matter, the strength of this band when routed into love songs is not matched by any other. Murder Ballads aren’t the only ones they write, after all, and the former’s closing plea of “Come back to me” is heart-wrenchingly poignant and the mark of a personal opening of flood gates so deliberately bound shut up to that point.
‘Stagger Lee’ is a mind-blowing, cinematic spectacle, Cave pronouncing every vowel and every “Mo-ther-fuck-er” with painstaking intent and a gleeful deviance, regarding the crowd as a man surveying his kingdom. Tonight he is a joyous fiend, flailing, tossing, kicking and thrusting like a man possessed. Cave may be the central, charisma-spewing spectacle of the band, knowingly striking fear and throbbing lust in equal measure in the hearts and loins of his audience, but it is not a solo voyage. Warren Ellis is supernaturally talented underneath the grizzly visage and it’s apparent that each Bad Seed is an intrinsic part of the bigger picture and it can’t go unsaid that the addition of the choir and orchestra is inspired, adding goosebumps to the magnificence.
As a unit the Bad Seeds are unfeasibly powerful, their limitless dynamism betraying the fact they are a band with nothing left to prove. Switching easily between violent disorder and unflinching romanticism, Cave between croons and fiendish cries, they are evidently not ready to be confined to genre or age appropriate behaviour. As Cave points out, they’ve been doing this for thirty years, but the Bad Seeds feel more vital, thrilling and more imaginative than anything that emerges in music today, and the young pretenders who shamelessly emulate them don’t need reminding of that. A band could get drowned in such a grandiose setting, but the setting of the theatre is only matched by their own majesty.
Photograph by Gaelle Beri. View full gallery here.