Live review

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - St Luke's Church, London, May 15, 2008

This gig is being recorded for BBC Four and, as with this kind of thing, there’s something slightly odd about tonight’s proceedings. We’re in the splendid hall of a restored 18th century church, sitting around tables, mindful of the cameras and lengths of cables snaking across the floor, practising clapping for the Assistant Stage Manager. If “live” is a spontaneous celebration of the power of rock’n’roll, then we’re a long way from Kansas, Toto.

It is, arguably, a somewhat incongruous environment to see Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds play, anyway.

They arrive on stage looking like a bunch of bounty hunters from a Cormac McCarthy novel, dragged out of the desert and smartened up for the night. There is a lot of facial hair on display, some of it – particularly in the case of Cave’s General-Adjutant Warren Ellis – impressively wild and straggly. Quite what the original parishioners of St Luke’s would have made of them is anyone’s guess, but you could safely assume there’d be a stampede for the Holy Water.

In fact, despite their rather feral demeanour, there’s something incredibly engaging about the band and Cave particularly, whose patter is more stand-up comic than rock star. After asking the 200-strong audience for requests, someone shouts out for “The Carny”. “No, no,” says Cave, shaking his head. “I mean – sure, I can sing it, but these guys…” his voice tails off and he points behind him, shrugging, as if to say ‘You see what I’m lumbered with..?’ Later, apparently bored with Cave’s windly introduction to a song, Ellis mischievously starts coaxing wails of feedback from his guitar, forcing him to start his intro again, twice.

And to the songs themselves? We’re treated to a fantastic, career-spanning set, stretching as far back as 1985’s “Tupelo” and framed by "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!” and “More News From Nowhere”, from the new album. It’s a glorious celebration of Cave’s astonishing body of work with the Bad Seeds, of which a sustained level of quality is key. So we get piano ballads – “Into Your Arms”, “The Ship Song” – hellfire hits “Stagger Lee” and “Deanna” as well as “The Mercy Seat”, “Let Love In”, “God Is In The House”, “We Call Upon The Author” and “Red Right Hand”. No fat, in other words.

Cave issues only one stage direction all night – he turns to drummer Jim Sclavunos at the start of “Into Your Arms” and says “Fairly brisk”. Such is the rapport between band members. And they do make for a fairly interesting spectacle; whether it be bassist Martyn P Casey, standing motionless on some kind of plinth all night, or Ellis, gleefully going at his large collection of mandocasters (a 5 string guitar which is tuned in 5ths and has the scale of a violin/mandolin, according to Google). During an almighty version of “Stagger Lee” Ellis dispenses with instruments altogether, opting instead to roll around on the floor bashing away at his effects pedals.

Cave, dressed in faintly ridiculous purple striped trousers, throws himself around the stage, leaning in to stab at his keyboards, attack his guitar, or serenade a member of the audience. He’s a brilliant showman, of course, and there comes a point where, perhaps, he realizes the inherent ludicrousness of men of a certain age playing rock music, but never baulks from immersing himself totally in the moment.

And then, suddenly, they’re gone, the lights are up, no encore. That being, quite emphatically, the end of that.

SET LIST:

Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
Red Right Hand
Tupelo
Midnight Man
Let Love In 
Deanna
God Is In The House
Into My Arms
Today's Lesson
Get Ready For Love
Lyre Of Orpheus
The Ship Song
Moonland
The Mercy Seat
Call Upon The Author
Hard On For Love
Stagger Lee
More News From Nowhere


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