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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Rob Haynes takes in the master of darkness at the Manchester Apollo

Published on November 26th 2008.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Observe Nick Cave in 1982 – lurching and shrieking, his back turned to the audience amid the self-destructing rock and roll of The Birthday Party – and he hardly seemed primed for a career of longevity and critical acclaim. Nevertheless, he arrives at a sold-out Apollo very much a high-brow literary rock star. A serious-looking, mostly lower middle-aged audience is in attendance, many of whom presumably have eyeliner and back-combing in their past, but who tonight look like they’re in for a good chin-stroking.

Firstly, respectfully appreciative attention is given to support act Joe Gideon and the Shark, a multi-instrumental duo who blow any knee-jerk White Stripes comparisons (female drummer, male guitarist) out of the water with their imaginatively constructed deadpan narratives and weird noir-blues. It’s a crowd-winning performance and good choice for opening act.

Half an hour on, the lights dim, and the besuited Bad Seeds stroll onstage. As they smoulder into the brooding Hold On To Yourself, Cave swaggers on, all spindly legs and high kicks, like Vic Reeves re-imagined by Tim Burton using a pack of pipe-cleaners. Now fifty, Cave shows little sign of settling into respectable middle age beyond wearing a suit. His thinning hair, dyed jet black, sweeps back to his shoulders, emphasising the growing expanse of his high forehead, and with the matching black moustache it’s a look which he carries off by sheer bravado.

The six-strong Bad Seeds make for an equally improbable looking assembly – half of them look as though they were rounded up from the anonymous ranks of the Apollo’s stage-hands, the other half appear as though wakened from their fitful slumbers beneath a railway bridge. The extravagantly bearded violinist Warren Ellis stands to Cave’s left, the pair pirouetting amid the electricity, striking angular shapes in a bizarre gothic parody of the classic rock band singer and lead guitarist duet.

Lurching thence into the manic preacher-groove of Dig Lazarus Dig!!!, the template is set for the evening, mixing bluesy gospel intensity and jet-black humour with sweat dripping, sleazy rock and roll. It’s an odd concoction – Cave prowling the front of the stage, dragging Old Testament phrases to contexts they were surely never intended, snarling accusatory lines over a pointed finger to individual audience members, Ellis wrenching out piercing squalls of noise from his electric violin.

Full berserk preacher mode arrives in We Call Upon The Author, given stark contrast with Cave sat solemnly behind the piano for haunting versions of God Is In The House and People Ain’t No Good.

The evening ends on the reliably demented Stagger Lee, and the musicians all torture maximum noise from their instruments at the climax, Ellis even picking up a flute and reeling off a few inaudible runs amid the cacophony. Cave grins, waves in demonically avuncular fashion and strides off, ready to face down a sixth decade.

Nick Cave played at the Manchester Apollo on Tuesday 25 November

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

GJHNovember 26th 2008.

So. Was it actually any good then?

Author, called upon, explainsNovember 26th 2008.

Yes, fair point. The crowd were enthusiastic but static throughout - possibly through age, possibly awe, I couldn't say. The atmosphere was excited and impressive.

friend of GJHNovember 26th 2008.

Glad the ranters have told us it was good then. Dunno how the audience reacted on the night tho. Not a word. Did they sit? Did they lurch from one foot to another in a slightly embarrassed sort of way? Did they stroke their chins? Did they complain that it was too loud? Or too sweaty? Or too cerebral?I liked the line about chin stroking tho. And the one about being awakened from fitfull slumbers beneath the railway arch. very funny. It doesn't quite convey what the gig was like tho.

AnonymousNovember 26th 2008.

staggeringly good gig, my ears and mind are still reeling. if you have never seen nick cave live you're missing out on one of the icons of the 20th/21st century. it was *that* good.

AnonymousNovember 26th 2008.

@ GJH - depends whether or not you like Nick Cave. Nice write-up, Rob.

AnonymousNovember 26th 2008.

I've worked in live music for 20 years and this was a classic concert. Probably one of the best gigs I've seen in the last decade and God know I've seen enough. Still reeling two days later. The man is incredible.

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