I knew this was going to be a heavy show. The recent album from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree, was made after the death of one of Cave's sons, which is reflected on not only the album, but also a documentary on the making of the album, called One More Time With Feeling (a great watch, by the way). So when the sold out show came up at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, I had emotionally prepared myself, knowing it would be more intense than the previous two times I had seen them -- which were already some of the most intense shows I have seen.
There was no opener for the night, just Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds taking stage shortly after 8. As the half dozen members of the Bad Seeds filled the back of the stage, Nick Cave came out and perched on a chair front and centre, somewhat antithetical to his usual stage demeanour, for the first song "Anthrocene". But immediately after, as they launched into "Jesus Alone", Cave put the chair aside and was his usual on-stage-self; stalking back and forth, limbs shooting out wildly, throwing the microphone, crouching into the crowd as arms reached up as if in worship. I don't think I've seen a single other performer with as much effortless presence on stage, commanding a crowd with just a movement or single word, as he was occasionally projected onto the big screen behind the band, literally larger-than-life. He leaves more of himself on stage than most musicians I've seen at half his age.
The set ebbed and flowed, pulling from their vast library, as the songs slowly built in energy before erupting with "From Her To Eternity" and then calming back down with piano ballads "The Ship Song" and one of my absolute favourites, the gorgeous "Into My Arms". Songs from the new album were wrought with emotion like "Girls In Amber" and "I Need You", and old favourites like the sinister "Red Right Hand" and "The Mercy Seat", building to a frantic finish, had the crowd moving.
The emotional climax of the set came with "Distant Sky", an incredibly heartbreaking song in which Cave's shaking voice proclaims "They told us our dreams would outlive us // They told us our gods would outlive us // But they lied", I'm sure bringing a tear to more eyes than just mine. And while guest vocalist Else Torp wasn't there for her verse, the video of her singing was projected onto the big screen behind them, like an angel watching over the band.
That was followed, as on the album, by the sombre "Skeleton Tree" to finish off the main set. And honestly, I would have been satisfied if the set ended there, but it was clear there was more coming, as the crew was getting gear ready as opposed to tearing down.
The encore began with Cave wading deep into the crowd, past the front area and perched atop the seats as he lead the crowd in singing and clapping to "The Weeping Song". He made his way back on stage for the chaotic murder ballad "Stagger Lee", bring a hoard of people up with him to dance along as Cave pantomimed the songs violent narrative.
After nearly two hours, the night finished off back out amongst the crowd, Cave leading another sing along, this time to "Push The Sky Away", leaving us with the lyrics "Some people say it's just rock 'n' roll / Ah, but it gets you right down to your soul"
And I can't think of any better way to describe the show than that. Intense, powerful, emotional, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is one of the best live acts I have ever seen, and everyone needs to witness them perform at least once in their lives.
Highs Boson Blues
From Her to Eternity
The Ship Song
Into My Arms
Girl in Amber
I Need You
Red Right Hand
The Mercy Seat
The Weeping Song
Push The Sky Away