There is a moment when, sitting in the cavernous bubble of the SSE Hydro, the heads of the crowd below me lit by droplets of swirling colour, I experience a feeling that I, and everyone else in this gigantic space, are one single breathing organism. While the pulsating rhythm and bass hum of the Bad Seeds provide the backdrop, Nick Cave wraps his voice around us and pulls us into his universe. Yes it is dark, and takes us to landscapes of long black cars driving through desert nights, of blood and loss, and pistols shots cracking the sky. But there is celebration in this world too, and Cave’s mesmerizing delivery draws his audience in to share it.
Beginning their set with the sparsely melodic, percussion-driven Anthrocene, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds perform nearly all of the tracks from their latest album Skeleton Tree, a work which has drawn much attention for the fact of his son’s accidental death during its recording. Grief is undoubtedly here, in songs like Girl in Amber and Distant Sky, a duet beautifully executed with an on-screen Else Torp, which ends with Cave emerging from darkness to the front of the stage, singing in his hauntingly deep baritone: “They told us our gods would outlive us. But they lied”. But the minimalist synths and cymbal washes here are replaced by a raucous discordant urgency on other tracks, and to say that this night is about reflecting on tragedy would deny the equally present moments of pure joy. It turns out that even though he’s the expert at spitting out lyrics with the kind of menace called for on expletive-ridden Stagger Lee, and at delivering lines like “it was the year I officially became the bride of Jesus” from Magneto as if it were a direct threat, that Nick Cave is actually funny. After one fan gets a bit too close, he quips, “This is fucking sexual harassment in the workplace!” Luckily for us, this in no way puts him off.
While the band provides the sonic backdrop to his poetry, and multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis plays violin with a furious abandon like a mad wizard, hacking at its strings to create a wall of noise, Cave spends much of his time on stage singing to the front row, pacing back and forth and crouching down to touch eager hands. Removing the barriers between the music and us, several times he comes out into the audience directly, held up by a sea of arms, singing directly into faces as we join in.
Push the Sky Away closes the night on what has been a mixture of poignant lyrical moments and barely-restrained pandemonium. On stage, invited audience members fill the space, reflecting ourselves back to us. “Some people say it’s just rock n’ roll, but it gets you right down to your soul”, Cave croons. I am not alone in feeling that tonight, it certainly has.
For more on Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds click here.