Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Manchester Arena, UK

by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date:
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Manchester Arena, UK
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Manchester Arena, UK

It would be something of an understatement to say that I’m excited about seeing Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.  These songs are built into my subconscious and written into my musical DNA. Last year’s Skeleton Tree LP proved to be one of the most intensely personal, sparse and strikingly beautiful albums in the band's cannon. Yet how would such an intimate collection of songs come across within the rather huge confines of the Manchester Arena?

“Well I heard you been out looking for something to love”

The ghostly, wordless chant of ‘Three Seasons in Wyoming’ (a soundtrack piece recorded by Cave and Warren Ellis) heralds the imminent arrival of the band. The quietly majestic ‘Anthrocene’ unfurls with Cave delivering the songs heartbroken lament, “and all the things we love, we love, we love, we lose”. Much has been said about the personal nature of these songs (not least in the documentary One More Time with Feeling) and their impact is all the more potent live.

The dark throb of ‘Jesus Alone’ is simply startling, Cave’s performance intimate and engaging as he reaches out to the audience, “with my voice/ I am calling you”. These are songs about trying to find a way through the darkness, impossibly sad yet quietly hopeful. The yearning ‘Magneto’ follows, brim full of magic and loss.

“As a shot rings out to a spiritual groove/ everybody bleeding to the Higgs Boson Blues”

Throughout the performance the link between the band and the audience is integral, Cave seeking to make a genuine connection with the thousands of awe-struck faces in attendance. The strange, stream-of-consciousness flow of ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ suddenly hits home. Arms stretch out from the front row as Cave repeats the mantra, “Can you feel my heartbeat?”

Cave’s interactions with the audience are nothing short of priceless. Dealing with a fan’s unexpected fixation with his purple socks, he jokingly tells him to shut the fuck up before laughing and saying that he loves him anyway. Later in the evening Cave takes off his shoe and throws a solitary purple sock out into the crowd, “you’re only getting the one though” he laughs. This isn’t the Gothic prince of doom written about in the press.

‘From Her to Eternity’ find’s the band cranking up the volume as Cave tells us about the girl in Room 29 (“Why that’s the one right up top of mine”). Intense and blissfully exciting, it’s hard to believe this song was first unleashed in 1984. The thunderous ‘Tupelo’ comes next; Cave bringing a young fan onto the stage to help out, he’s about 10 and already proudly wearing a Bad Seeds t-shirt.

“I’m transforming/ I’m vibrating/ I’m glowing/ I’m flying…look at me now”

While I always enjoyed the recorded version, it’s live that ‘Jubilee Street’ really comes into its own; a spiritual slow-build that blooms into a truly euphoric crescendo.  It’s a real shivers down the spine moment. The Bad Seeds then follow this with not one but two of the greatest love songs ever written in the form of ‘The Ship Song’ and ‘Into My Arms’.

‘Girl in Amber’ puts the whole venue under its strangely melancholic spell before the heart-wrenching plea of ‘I Need You’ delivers the kind of big-hearted anthem destined to melt the stoniest of hearts. The mood changes as the explosive, fire and brimstone of ‘Red Right Hand’ and ‘The Mercy Seat’ swagger into view and revel in the bands altogether darker inclinations. Hairs stand on end and hats are blown clean off heads.

The rather beautiful ‘Distant Sky’ restores the calm as Danish soprano Else Torp appears as a large, ghostly projection behind the band. The spacious, fragile nature of the song even more moving when played to a huge, nigh-on silent audience of thousands.

Larger venues may sometimes feel impersonal yet tonight The Bad Seeds really have brought the whole of Manchester Arena together. You know that when Cave finally sings “and it’s alright now” on the gentle swoon of ‘Skeleton Tree’ that it hasn’t been easily won. Both Cave and Manchester have been through some unimaginable horrors of late but here’s a song offering a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Well, those were the last words that the devil said/ Because Stag put four holes in his motherfucking head”

Of course, the show isn’t quite over yet. The well-deserved encore starts with ‘The Weeping Song’ and a little Cave led audience participation. He beams from ear-to-ear as the whole of the arena claps along. Brutal in its cartoonish and foul-mouthed violence ‘Stagger Lee’ might not be the most obvious choice for a celebratory hoe-down but that’s exactly what it is. Cave invites swathes of wide-eyed revellers up on stage, including the ten year old Bad Seed from earlier. The whole performance feels gloriously cathartic. Surely no murder ballad has ever felt this joyous?

The fans gathered on the stage sit down for the band's final offering, the meditative ‘Push the Sky Away’. Hands reach into the sky and with this final, hopeful and open gesture the band sends us back into the night. It might have initially seemed odd for the Bad Seeds to be playing such huge arenas yet they’ve done so completely on their own terms; bringing heart, soul and passion to the masses. It genuinely feels like a real privilege to be part of the audience tonight and it’s an experience I’m unlikely to forget any time soon.

 

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