Live Review: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Manchester Arena, September 2017
Victoria’s Prince of Darkness undergoes a riveting catharsis in the Rainy City, channelling grief into poignant joy
Review by Andrew Steel
Half-a-dozen songs into Nick Cave’s debut performance at Manchester Arena, in the midst of a brutishly menacing Tupelo, he reaches into the front row and pulls up a young boy, no older than ten and clad in a black tour shirt. Rather than be fazed by the sudden limelight, the Victoria-born singer-songwriter’s new companion dances with his idol around the stage with childlike glee, bellowing every single lyric back at its architect with candid wonder.
It is both an uplifting and affecting tableau, given the freighted narrative that underscores Cave’s live return to the UK. Skeleton Tree, last year’s devastating rumination on grief and loss, was heavily influenced by the accidental death of his fifteen-year-old son Arthur, a fragile masterpiece that pushed the Bad Seeds deeper into ambient dissonance that ever before. The image of him, lithe and livewire, flanked by a smaller figure, is equal parts joyous and poignant.
The Australian outfit’s long-gestating ascent to arenas is overdue – but with musicianship typically cloaked in claustrophobia, such cavernous venues are potentially double-edge sword for them at first glance. Such concerns are swiftly negated; the cinematic expanse of Skeleton Tree lends itself beautifully to the vast space, in particular the keening drone of Jesus Alone and the ethereally haunting Distant Sky, Warren Ellis’s mournful violin adding a raw, delicate coda over ghostly synths.
Cave – part brimstone-punk preacher, part tender laureate – leans heavily on newer material; but the classic cuts he conjures are seminal Bad Seeds numbers, violent blues and stirring ballads. They come thick and fast; a pugnacious Red Right Hand, a skin-shivering The Ship Song; a nihilistic From Her to Eternity. He is impossible to tear the eyes from; on a joyously searing Jubilee Street, he hurls his microphone into the wings and leaps off his piano during its barnstorming climax, possessed by some unquiet spirit.
For the encore, he clambers into the seating tiers and conducts harmonies during The Weeping Song, whilst the gloriously grotesque Stagger Lee sees him incite the world’s politest stage invasion, dozens joining him to recount his folk-fable of sex and murder. By the time he concludes with the eerie, whispered Push the Sky Away, Cave is the only man standing upon the dais – except for the same young boy once more, their hands clasped together. It paints a sacred scene; a moving finale to one of the most riveting, cathartic shows of the year.