On Tuesday, the 31st of January, you could see the sky pushed away in the direction of Perth Arena, where Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds finished off the final show of their Australia Tour. The tour followed the release of Skeleton Tree, a sombre, slow but ultimately brilliant album which was released shortly after the tragic death of Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur.
Due to the aforementioned, it was hard for me to gauge what kind of show we would be in for; now, in retrospect, I feel that view might have been naïve. I had forgotten the man who was going to be on stage that night – the Nick Cave. It became clearer the moment I bore witness to a crude illustration of the fellow with his dick hanging out printed upon shirts at the official merchandise stand. Yep, this is the man. My accompaniment on many a late nights of drink, cigarettes and spouts of self-loathing within the crumbling, vandalised walls of my cheap share-house room from years yonder. The cause of an epiphany in my early teens when I realised you don’t need corpse paint or Fred Durst to listen to something dark and aggressive. Nick Cave, the link in the chains leading me to my love of music from the likes of The Dirty Three and the late Rowland S. Howard. All that giddiness and excitement had built up within me at the sight of that dangling, illustrated penis.
Moving on from the penis, my partner and I had seated ourselves as we heard the familiar beginnings of ‘Anthrocene’ (by that time I had since purchased said penis shirt, which I had quickly pocketed, thus giving my coat pocket a curious bulge). For this track, the Prince of Darkness sat and helped the seven Bad Seeds (consisting of Martyn P. Casey, Thomas Wydler, Jim Sclavunos, Conway Savage, George Vjestica, Larry Mullins and Cave’s musical wifey Warren Ellis) slowly pull in and captivate the arena. Cave’s charisma and poetic prowess were beginning to boil by the time they played ‘Magneto’. Lines such as “My blood was for the gags and other people’s diseases,” were thrust out with enough power to put any slam poets in the audience into states of awe and shame.
During ‘Higgs Boson Blues’, a track from 2013’s Push the Sky Away (if you didn’t get the earlier pun), Cave began to dive to the audience, swarmed by waves of arms shot up in admiration. The visage of Cave was that of a lighthouse against a storm (he would later sing for us to “come sail your ships around me.”) We were then treated to the avant-garde classic ‘From Her to Eternity’, bringing about the realisation in each of the 6000 strong crowd that, yes, we will be getting those classics. All the while Nick dominated the stage, convincing the audience he hadn’t aged a day since playing the piss-soaked venues in West Berlin as part of the Birthday Party. The show failed to lose any momentum, as my heart began to flutter and mouth began to sing along to the classics ‘the Ship Song’ and ‘Into My Arms’.
The Bad Seeds displayed some sonic versatility switching it up to play loud, mean renditions of ‘Red Right Hand’ and then concluding on ‘The Mercy Seat’. I did miss the roaring percussion and manic streaks that were present on the original studio recordings, but then, maybe it’s a matter of retrospect and a progression of musical sensibility within the Bad Seeds and their changing members, or the influence of Johnny Cash’s heartfelt rendition.
Eventually Nick and his Bad Seeds left the stage before bringing in an encore performance to out-encore any encore that ever encored. Beginning with a vulnerable performance of ‘The Weeping Song’, the band followed on with their most memorable performance of the night, ‘Stagger Lee’ from 1996’s Murder Ballads. During the track, Cave gained some laughs through his interaction with a punter, “Put that away, motherfucker… You’re a big man, you don’t need that little phone.”
The night concluded with ‘Push the Sky Away’, the band stringing the final chords as Nick gave his goodbyes and the mesmerised audience moved out their seats, returning to the land of the living.
There was a slight disappointment afterwards when I realised I heard naught of my favourite album, 1992’s Henry’s Dream, as I’d hoped to hear tracks such as ‘I Had a Dream’, ‘Joe’ or ‘Jack the Ripper’. But it’s not much of a negative considering that it’s bound to happen when you see someone whose music spans five decades. All in all, it was very hard to convey a whole lot after the show, as it was an intense emotional experience with many instances of introspective engagement. This is something of a rarity in live shows, as it takes a wordsmith such as Nick Cave, or the late Leonard Cohen, to really rattle your being with the power of words that resonate just as much musically as any strings, guitar or percussion would.