If a gentlemanly seeing-to can exist, and is not an irredeemable oxymoron, then that is precisely what the Bad Seeds have unloaded tonight. And if such a thing can be physically served up, then the dosage must be measured in grandiose lashings rather than anything more conventionally decimal and finite. It is a breathtaking thing to behold, these six tattered, middle-aged men at full-throttle, or even in fragmented, uneven slow-motion – and that’s before you factor in the uncouth, literate high-wire sermons of Nick Cave.
There is a distinguished air on any stage they inhabit, more so by the year, but one also tinged heavily you imagine by incandescent friction burning and the twin hint of musty after-shave and red wine. Their entrance, in styles of formal attire worn casually and befitting their own creased features, differs little to scenes unfolding as betting shops open their doors the country over. Bar the uncertainty. Here, even through a chaos appropriating the MC5 set upon by The Pogues, there is certainty. And be clear that the gentlemanly description does not reference any form of traditional chivalry, it’s more about knowing how to do the job and doing the job good and right. You’re in safe hands, basically.
Nick Cave is certainly not in a chivalrous mood of late. Fired by the abrasive rancour of the Grinderman side-project, current record ‘Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!’, while more rounded, holds platitudes in short shrift and is played practically in its entirety tonight. He stalks the lip of the stage as some lunatic cross between the Phantom of the Opera and a 70s strip-joint owner. During 1988’s Elvis-on-a-flaming-hot-grill single ‘Deanna’, one minute he’s foaming at the mouth as he locks eye contact and spits out the words like lashes from a whip, the next he’s dismissing words, replacing them with “blah blah blah” in some mischievously cantankerous protest, before thrusting his loins like a predatory John Travolta in a smutty Saturday Night Fever cast-off. He treats his audience with a healthy contempt too – stretching towards an arm extending from the front rows, shadows cast on the art-deco wall like Michelangelo’s iconic illustration of God and Adam, he withdraws at the last second, spitting: “I don’t want to touch your fucking finger!!”.
And while Warren Ellis has proven himself the natural accompaniment to Nick Cave in most contexts, in this one he is especially potent. He more or less is to the violin what both Hendrix and Dylan were to the guitar, and arriving in black suit jacket and unforgiving red shirt with wild eyes and mammoth erupting beard, he looks like Beelzebub disguised as The Almighty. He doesn’t so much play in this band (though his accomplishment is plainly magnificent) as deliver sickness and plague to the heart of the songs, seeking to magnify the point somewhat by delivering cantankerous distortion and gargantuan roughness from such a very tiny guitar. During visceral, feedback-drenched tsunami-of-consciousness ‘We Call Upon The Author’ he crashes to his knees and spends the entire song wrenching discord from his pedals with only a flailing, possessed limb or thrashing head of hair alerting you to his presence.
If Nick Cave entered this century growing old gracefully, limbering in velvet through endlessly thoughtful paeans to love and existence, followed dutifully and seriously by The Bad Seeds, then they just broke that old man’s legs. As gentlemen, of course – they didn’t creep up from behind. He had a sporting chance and the best man won.
Report by James Berry for Crud Magazine 2008©