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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Manchester Apollo, 30/10/13

01 November 2013, 11:55 | Written by Janne Oinonen

A few songs in to tonight’s bravura performance, you start to feel sorry for Nick Cave’s microphone.

Whenever Cave feels the urge to move – and it should be pointed out that he succumbs to the lures of loin-shaking far more often than your average 56-year old songwriter – the poor piece of kit gets chucked away in a vehement manner that suggests it’s the only thing blocking Cave from unleashing the ultimate outbreak of rock-cockerel strutting. Although every crash landing against the stage planks seems fatal, somehow the microphone survives to see another show.

Which brings to mind Cave’s own longevity. Having started their musical odyssey in the early 80′s on the ruins of the notoriously messy Birthday Party in the kind of intoxicant-drenched squalor that rock scriptures drool over, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have certainly beaten the odds to be on stage 30 years later; that they’re operating at the peak of their powers is nothing short of a miracle.

Cave’s undeniable standing as an elder statesman has definitely not resulted in the predictability or staleness such a culturally lofty status usually implies. This year’s Push The Sky Away (album number 15, if you’re counting) is one of the very finest in a dud-free catalogue – an experimental, endlessly surprising collection that reboots both Cave’s songwriting and the band’s sound. If the Bad Seeds have ever been more powerful live, it must have resulted in some sort of levitation, such is the level of energy and excitement emitting from the stage during tonight’s two-hour, career-spanning set; there’s a palpable sense of barely controlled menace that propels familiar cuts such as, say, the Harry-Crews-meets-the-Old-Testament-in-Memphis saga “Tupelo” (off 1985′s The Firstborn is Dead) to truly thrilling heights.

A virtuoso performer, Cave owns the stage, pacing around like Elvis gone bad, the gates of Graceland busted wide open in search of a sweaty communion with his adoring audience. You figure that Cave can’t be entirely serious about the rock god poses he pulls, often in the arms of the front row, but there’s no sense of pantomime in any of it; he genuinely seems possessed by both the music’s relentless energy and the wicked characters. The cruel twists of frequently blood-splattered fate that populate these songs are spat out as the most biting lines in the faces of audience members like a preacher who’s crossed over to the dark side. For all the showmanship on display, Cave is just as convincing sat at the piano for the mid-gig breather of peerless balladry, with “God Is In The House” – multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis gets a hug mid-song after a particularly sparkling violin solo – and ‘Into My Arms’, in a new arrangement infused with gentlest of funk, potent enough to stop time.

The Bad Seeds deserve equal billing. Somehow simultaneously slick (the blink-of-an-eye flips from super-cool minimalism to face-melting noise that fire up the likes of “Red Right Hand” – surely the ultimate Halloween anthem – can’t just happen without practice). Totally unhinged in their control, the band’s current six-piece incarnation are just as home with the feather-light country lilt of “West Country Girl” as they are with the ominous rumble of “Mercy Seat”, the chaos now reined in to serve the classic song, instead of getting in its way as it threatened to do on the 1988 original.

The dynamics and interplay are jaw-dropping. “Jubilee Street” starts off tentatively, just a scratchy guitar and drums in search of a groove, before gradually hitting the fifth gear and escalating from there. As impressive as the studio version is, tonight’s take makes it sound like a rough sketch, an outline of an idea brought to explosive fruition. Looming over the front row, Cave seems unwilling to let the song slip away, extolling the crowd to “look at me” over and over again as the band hit yet another screeching crescendo, with Ellis seemingly receiving hefty dosages of electricity from his long-suffering violin. It’s impossible not to do as you’re told, faced as we are with a band and a performer whose prowess tonight actually far exceeds their legendary reputation.

“They say it’s just rock ‘n’ roll/oh but it gets you right down to your soul,” goes the refrain of the Push The Sky Away‘s majestic title track, one of the most arresting moments tonight. A corny sentiment, some might say, but tonight’s bravura performance is surely enough to turn the most stubborn of sceptics into a true believer.

Photograph taken by Burak Cingi at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. See full gallery here.

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