Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Live At Her Majesty’s Theatre, London

Playing 'Push The Sky Away' in its entirety

Going to a good Bad Seeds show can be an edifying experience. One feels purged afterwards, vicariously detoxified, with a cleaner and leaner soul than before the catharsis. Will this be such an evening?

Cave, black suited, with the trim silhouette of a tendon stretched desert bird, explains that they’ll play new album ‘Push The Sky Away’ in full and in order, to maintain its narrative "surge"; this may not be clear from first listen but it certainly feels right. This suite of songs is near sublime on record, live they prove extraordinary; each of their characters eminently more visceral made flesh. The mildly ominous opener and recent single ‘We Know Who U R’ builds on a narcotic somnambulant groove that’s also unusually clear and distinct. It chimes us into a trance; we’re theirs for the taking.

‘Wide Lovely Eyes’ demonstrates how much more thrilling it is to see a storyteller weave his tale in front of your eyes, like a magician showcasing impressive sleight of hand. These songs sound just too good to be new. On ‘Water’s Edge’, Warren Ellis plays a fiddle that could lure young boys to dark deeds, its likes last heard at Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show; it  swirls and darts like fog through the theatre. Cave intones in a repetitive mantra: “I’m vibrating, I’m transforming”. And you believe him. He’s a man made of dust, whipped from a storm.

A small chorus of warmly acknowledged children add a fresh and fragile edge as a choir, highlighting the imperfections in Caves own voice but tenderly so. On ‘Mermaids’ this is especially evident, the songs dark glossy reverberations lifted to heady heights with the sea breeze of their little siren voices. There’s also a string quintet and two additional drummers which add beautiful layers of warmth throughout, specifically on ‘Jubilee Street’ which is even more stately in these surroundings.

Heralded with the sentiment that it’s "annoyingly long" is verbal tour de force ‘Higgs Boson Blues’. But listening to such deliciously dexterous word play it’s hard to agree. For the first time this evening a fire and flash of brimstone is seen. The music writhes, Cave moans, only speaking in tongues could follow you would think. There are tantric levels of sexuality on the stage, which instantly implode into the purity of ‘Push The Sky Away’, an emotional, plaintive yet optimistic end. And that’s the album, he states curtly. We have witnessed something truly great.

There’s barely time to catch our breaths before an array of gems are plucked from the back catalogue. During a scorching rendition of ‘From Her To Eternity’ they could still be angry young men returned to Berlin. It’s savage, seething and spectacular, as is the familiar strip club sleaze of ‘Red Right Hand’. They appear to have aged in reverse, from dapper gentleman to feral youths in a ten minute carousel ride. The kids chorus are sent home to bed after a heartfelt ‘O Children’ and ‘The Ship Song’. There’s real anticipation now. They growl through ‘Jack The Ripper’ and ramshackle rock 'n' roll it on ‘Oh Deanna’.  Cave then slides in at the piano to play ‘Your Funeral, My Trial’ and the place transforms into a Bacharach & David ballroom, as remarkable and precious as the heartstopping dance sequence in The Fisher King. Last song of the set ‘The Mercy Seat’ is as full of indignant rage and anguish as one would hope; towards the end it’s simply thunderous. The only way to push it further is with a one song encore. ‘Stagger Lee’ is extended into a maniacal, extra doses of motherfucker, free form wall of beautiful noise. The power and the glory.


Words by Anna Wilson

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