SUSAN DARLINGTON sees a blistering performance by the
confronts his personal demons
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds at Manchester Arena
UPLIFTING and joyful are hardly adjectives that could be applied to Skeleton Tree, the album that Nick Cave released in the wake of his son’s death.
But on the second night of his British tour with the Bad Seeds to promote the release, they couldn’t be more fitting and the sense of exaltation is partly derived from Cave’s magnetic showmanship. The bastard son of Ziggy Stardust and a firebrand preacher, he shrinks the vast arena into an intimate space through acts of personal connection.
Spending most of the show perched on the crowd barriers, he accepts a tissue with which to mop his sweating brow from a fan during From Her To Eternity — “that’s very considerate of you” — removes one purple sock for another over-enthusiastic fan during the encore and gets dozens of audience members on stage for a blistering rendition of Stagger Lee.
That highly charged connection transforms the music from personal grief to communal catharsis and there are moments when this feels uncomfortably intrusive, such as when Cave’s voice cracks during the ominous squalls of Jesus Alone and when he turns his back on the crowd mid-way through the lyrically raw I Need You.
And it’s a gig where the band’s older material gets a different perspective. There seems to be fresh weight to Cave’s voice when he intones: “I’m tired” on the brooding Higgs Boson Blues and his referencing an interventionist god on Into Your Arms — a reminder that he’s capable of writing quite beautiful love songs — now seems even more cruel.
There are at least three separate occasions during the two-hour set when these emotional deep cuts leave the audience speculating that the band has peaked too soon. But each time they circumvent a lull in energy by switching sonic or emotional direction.
Equally at ease playing epic, swaggering blues — Jubilee Street, The Mercy Seat — or restrained elegies — Magneto, Distant Sky — the six Bad Seeds bring control to chaos and revel in the space between.
Multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis is especially compelling and in any other band would be the visual focus as he gives his best Pete Townsend impression with his violin.
What they play may be just rock and roll but, as Cave testifies on closing song Push the Sky Away, when it’s this good “it gets you right down to your soul.”