NICK CAVE – Crowd-pleasing set? You heard right.

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NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS
Perth Arena 
Tuesday, January 31, 2017

9/10

What a January it’s been. With PJ Harvey, Bruce Springsteen and Falls Downtown already under gig-of-the-year consideration, another name got added on Tuesday night.

Seriously, after Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s crowd pleasing greatest hits set, ranking your top five gigs from January alone will be hard enough. Good luck for the rest of the year.

Nick Cave, crowd-pleasing set? You heard right. Despite performing nearly all of latest album Skeleton Tree, at the heart of the night was Cave trying his hand at a stadium show, and unlike The Boss the week before, he left hardly a stone unturned in his celebrated back catalogue when it came to the hits.

It was the kind of night you half expected Kylie Minogue to walk out during the encore and sing Where the Wild Roses Grow.

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While that song was the only glaring omission, in its place was a stunning setlist including another song from Murder Ballads, Stagger Lee, which was arguably the song of the night in the encore. But more about that later.

Cave’s first crack at Perth Arena actually got off to a shaky start. Anthrocene is a highlight on Skeleton Tree, but minus the skittering percussion and relegated to a piano ballad it was a touch disappointing. And while the heavy synth-line pulsing through an emotional Jesus Alone was instantly spine tingling, the high-pitched manipulations from another synth manned by Warren Ellis were distracting.

It wasn’t until Magneto and it’s haunting “One more time with feeling” lyric, which became the title of Cave’s recent documentary dealing with life post the death of his son, that the band seemed to settle. The curtains dropped to reveal an enormous backdrop surrounding the eight-piece band, that housed visuals and various shades as the night progressed. From there it just kept getting better.

First it was Cave’s prophetic song about Miley Cyrus twerking at the VMA’s (“Hannah Montana does the African Savannah”), Higgs Boson Blues. Then it was a look into the Bad Seeds’ post-punk past for one of the songs of the night, From Her to Eternity, which threatened to lift the Arena roof.

Tupelo followed suit but the next “wow” moment came from a more recent single, 2013’s Jubilee St, which built to a pair of scintillating peaks as Cave bellowed “Look at me now!”

To then segue directly into The Ship Song and Into My Arms, singalong opportunities embraced enthusiastically by the crowd, was a masterstroke. And from there you just knew he was going to play All. The. Songs.

So it made sense that Red Right Hand and The Mercy Seat were late set highlights, though perhaps no one was ready for just how big the drop midway through the former was, as the full weight of the Bad Seeds came crashing through the Perth Arena sound system.

The Mercy Seat also unleashed Warren Ellis on electric violin for some Dirty Three-like magic, and he did the same accompanied by Danish Soprano Else Torp on the visuals for the stirring duet Distant Sky. Skeleton Tree (the song) brought the main set to a close as some punters (yours truly included) decided it was already time for a standing ovation.

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But Cave hadn’t played The Weeping Song yet, and it didn’t take a genius to work out this wasn’t the sort of night he was leaving out an all time classic. Suffice to say it got the encore off to an incredible start, before calls from the audience to play Stagger Lee were finally answered and Cave embraced the most murderous bastard in his back catalogue with a theatre of cruelty-like intensity.

It left Push the Sky Away to complete one of the finest encores the Arena has ever seen, the underrated title track from the Bad Seeds’ second last album an ethereal call to arms with an otherworldly, supernatural quality we might have expected more of coming in.

In retrospect, perhaps the surprising thing was the show felt more like a celebration than the cathartic emotional experience suggested by Skeleton Tree. Those moments were there, but Cave proved he is a showman above all, and the unexpected success he has had baring his soul on Skeleton Tree has given the Bad Seeds the opportunity to take their show up a notch.

Still, this wasn’t quite a stadium show, any more than was it an intimate performance. One gets the impression that only now, nearly 40 years into his career, is Nick Cave considering that transition. It may be that watching the shift is his most fascinating gambit yet.

HARVEY RAE

Photos by Karen Lowe

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