Few bands with a career nudging the 30-year mark continue to contribute anything remotely fresh or vital. Virtually uniquely among groups of their seasoned vintage, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds appear to have retained the capacity to create music of a remarkable depth and resonance.
The band are poised to release their 15th studio album, Push the Sky Away, which they perform in full tonight abetted by a string section and a mini children’s choir. Reflecting on its genesis during a short film that precedes the gig, Cave muses that, “while we were making it, it seemed to become a very beautiful and melodic record”.
It is certainly a long way from Grinderman, the raw and feral mutant blues side-project that has occupied much of Cave’s time and attention in recent years. The first half of tonight’s show thus indulges the Bad Seeds’ tender and more classicist side, even when the inevitably black-clad Cave is loudly testifying his way through Water’s Edge, a grotesque and menacing tale of sexual violation by a predatory gang.
They up the pace and intensity for the episodic Jubilee Street, with the bearded Warren Ellis firing squalls of violin over a baroque yet primal number that finds Cave’s troubled protagonist, characteristically, caught between the chapel and the brothel. Even better is Higgs Boson Blues, a mordantly witty picaresque fable that runs the lyrical gamut from Lucifer to Robert Johnson and Hannah Montana.
The new material is not all so compelling, but Cave carries the weaker tracks through sheer charisma, jack-knifing as if receiving a series of electric shocks and flailing his skinny limbs in a dancing style than can best be described as gothic funky chicken. It takes quite some elan to get away with opening a song in the style that he begins Mermaids: “She was a catch, we were a match/ I was the match that would fire up her snatch …”
With the new album duly dispatched, the Bad Seeds treat a reverential crowd to a run-through of highlights from their staggering career, from the exquisite melancholy of The Ship Song, via the mutilated blues of Jack the Ripper and evangelical sleaze rock of Deanna, to the tensile psychodrama of The Mercy Seat. Few bands have been doing this for as long as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; nobody does it better.