Report: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Sydney 2013
The Opera House, Sydney
Tuesday 26th February 2013
By Liam Casey
It's strange that Nick Cave holds such an unassailable position as Australia's unofficial poet laureate. The esteem is justified. But for a man who dresses exclusively in black and sings frightening songs about sex and death, to be so universally adored in this happy-go-lucky land, is rather odd. Cave himself seemed to play with this image on the first night of his Australian tour, by turns a winking larrikin and a cranky old man. (“This is the Opera House, but you can touch my cock,” he announced, then later complained about unions as his string section took a break.)
Cave and his most long-lived project, the Bad Seeds, were celebrating the release of their fifteenth studio album, Push the Sky Away, which one could charitably call “sparse”. I would more accurately call it “underdone”. I could be alone in that interpretation, as this is the Bad Seeds' first number one album – although that probably says more about Cave's aging audience being one of the few that still buys music.
The stage was set for a more bombastic interpretation of the album – a children's choir and a contingent of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra alongside the Bad Seeds themselves – but the show plodded along initially. First single and opening number 'We No Who U R' is a hypnotic track that gives way to the meek and meandering 'Wide Lovely Eyes'.
Some tracks, like 'Water's Edge' and 'We Real Cool', recapture some of Cave's menace, but little of his focus. Things stepped up with 'Jubilee Street', although there was little finesse to the crescendo, with each part of the arrangement drowning out the other. Though I hated myself for it, I was mentally crying out for The Hits. Perhaps if the newer material had been scattered through the set I wouldn't have found it so lacking, but first and second half of the set were great contrasts. The admittedly lovely title track of Push the Sky Away moved to 'From Her To Eternity': almost 30 years old, the latter was still the more arresting of the two.
Audience and band alike became more animated, and Cave began to gyrate like some Gothic Elvis, embodying the gruesome swagger of songs like 'Red Right Hand'. There were crowd-pleasers, like 'God Is In The House' and the gorgeous 'Ship Song'. The orchestra was only used to full effect on 'Love Letter', but the Bad Seeds can make a terrible racket without any help, thank you very much. They proved as much with 'The Mercy Seat' (which gave me nightmares as a child, and has lost none of its power) and the encore performance of the blood-soaked 'Stagger Lee'.
Poor Nick Cave is in an enviable, though, presumably, frustrating position: any new work will be judged against one of the most admired catalogues in Australian music. I hate to be the bastard to say I like his old stuff better than his new stuff, but when he plays something like 'Your Funeral...My Trial', I guess I am that bastard.
(Photo: Dan Boud)