London WC2 LA2
He ain’t down here for the money. He ain’t down here for your love. He’s down here for your soul. But of course. He just wouldn’t bother with anything less. From the moment Nick Cave appears onstage like a face on a shroud, and The Bad Seeds spook their instruments into the blasphemous gospel roll of ‘Deanna’, it’s clear again how serious their demands are. If you come on this fierce, you’re not just after a kiss and a promise; as for money, this is a free fan club show, the reward being ambient adrenalin levels high enough to kick-start the dead. There’s only one thing left, and sure enough, by the end, Cave has his sack of souls to trade after the show ends. Sure, he might just return home for a cup of tea and the new Ruth Rendell, but the point is, it doesn’t matter.
The idea of the demon preacher caked in grave dirt has become something of an albatross necklace for Cave, yet this career-spanning dash through 15 years of Bad Seeds material shows both the manna and the brimstone, the Valentine heart and the knotted muscle on the murderer’s floor. Tonight is not just about leaps of faith and terrible falls, but how much you can believe. They make it easy to surrender your credulity. Cave, as always, is not so much pop star as piece of medieval masonry; Mick Harvey has the rapturous concentration of someone seeing visions of Mary behind the bar, while the lugubrious Blixa Bargeld stands on the left, wearing a floppy beret Mona Lisa would recognise. When he joins Cave for the sombre duet of ‘The Weeping Song’ two songs in, it’s almost too much, too early, so billowingly biblical if Charlton Heston appeared as Moses, no-one would flinch.
Yet all the blood and bile streaking these songs, all the qualities that stop Cave from being a mere storytelling cipher, are vividly present tonight. One minute he’s dedicating a tender, graceful ‘Into My Arms’ to his son, Luke, asking the audience to shout ‘Happy Birthday’ for him, every inch The Good Father. The next, he’s twisted up in the tornado of ‘Tupelo’, howling, “Oh, go to sleep the little children/The sandman’s on his way”, a paternal presence on a par with Herod. Similarly, he sings the honeysuckle-sweet lament of ‘Nobody’s Baby Now’, dedicating it to Shane MacGowan with a smile, before twitching straight into a bucking, bruised version of ‘The Mercy Seat’, a song that blackens the heart as you listen.
If being Nick Cave hasn’t always been a whole lot of fun, though, tonight there’s no sense of someone strangling on their own legend, no sound of doomy flapping from overhead. He jokes that his grey suit and black shirt are the colours of the Australian police force, thanks his fans warmly, and even allows a baying audience to finish his lines in ‘Red Right Hand’. Never mind that the sheer theatrical spectacle of a pterodactyl-shaped man pecking at the front row like he’s after their eyes is undiminished – what’s startling is this far down the line, these songs are still fresh meat. The band pull you through a time-loop into the songs, show you the sick green sky of the rarely played ‘Tupelo’, pitch you into Main Street at midnight for ‘Red Right Hand’, free the priapic desire of ‘From Her To Eternity’. This isn’t just a night out, a show, a gig. It’s some kind of communion. This is what a soul buys these days. It’s cheap at twice the price.