Arenas are not somewhere you’d find this amateur scribe nowadays. I’m more likely to be happily found in grimy punk rock hell holes due to tickets for these kinds of shows usually pricing me out of the market. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are one of those bands that have annoyingly alluded me live over the years; whether it be down to price, location or time. At the eleventh hour I received a very kind gesture of a guest list place via the promoter. It would involve a 360 mile round trip from South Wales to Bournemouth but sod it, let’s do it! I applied a fresh lick of black dye to my backcombed hair and promptly hit the road.
Tonight, as the lights go down over a sell-out crowd, straight off the bat and with minimal pause the Bad Seeds deliver an opening sequence from their 16th studio album Skeleton Tree with Anthrocene, Jesus Alone and Magneto. This first thing that strikes me is that these haunting, delicate tracks in their recorded format with loops and machines take a whole new life of their own on the live stage. As a silhouette of the gyrating Nick Cave projects via a spotlight onto the arena wall, it makes for breathtaking stuff.
If people thought tonight’s set was going to be strictly reserved for the latest album and newer material only, the Bad Seeds take us back in time to the mid 80s with rip-roaring, noise filled versions of From Her To Eternity and Tupelo. Cave prowls the stage like a caged beast and Warren Ellis rocks back and fore as the songs build and build to a crescendo. Mid set, Cave heads to the piano to lead us through some 90s material with beautiful takes of The Ship Song and Into My Arms.
In case Cave had forgotten, a fan reminds him that it was his 60th birthday two days earlier. Nick tells us that on getting a taxi to the venue the driver offered to assist him out of the cab! Cue laughter before the crowd serenades him through a rendition of Happy Birthday.
By the time we get to crowd pleasing classics Red Right Hand and The Mercy Seat, the audience is in full voice and eating out of the palm of Nick Cave’s hand and the set ends majestically with Distant Sky and the title track from Skeleton Tree.
A lot of musicians in the arena setting often seem unattainable and distant. As Cave conducts the Bad Seeds through the encore opener of The Weeping Song, it’s followed by Martyn P. Casey’s Stagger Lee bass line. Nick invites a fan for a hug, and then against his own advice on the microphone, he invites the whole crowd on stage to join him. In droves, adoring fans head past security and embrace Cave on the main platform as they throw many an awkward shape throughout Stagger Lee. The night draws to a close with Push the Sky Away as the vocal refrain is repeated by the crowd offstage and on.
I could throw many superlatives at tonight’s performance as it left this Bad Seeds live virgin in awe. Without a doubt, this opening night of their UK and European tour rates as one of the most mesmerising gigs I’ve ever witnessed. The whole experience enhanced by any ‘us and them’ barriers being broken down as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds made an arena show feel like an intimate occasion. Life-affirming stuff. Ginge Knievil.