"Cave kisses a fanboi in the front row, bang smack on the lips. We cheer. "You're too fuckin' easy," Cave teases."
We just have to visit the merch stand early and are stoked with the black hoodies emblazoned with "Bad Seed" in bold, white font. Not so sure about the fluoro pink Skeleton Tree tees, though, Nick Cave (AO). Did you sign off on those personally?
The black baby grand up on stage is so polished it reminds us of something: the nuns at our convent school used to warn us not to polish our shoes too much or else boys from neighbouring schools (such the one where The Birthday Party was formed, Caulfield Grammar) would be able to see our knickers in the reflection.
"Nick doesn't have fans he has adorers," a mum in the row behind us explains to her sons. "He's like a guru." After a long pause she clarifies, "He IS a guru!"
Beautiful, sorrowful orchestral music welcomes us inside the Bowl. Is it one of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' soundtracks? Please advise, 'cause we need to own it immediately.
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The Necks are so freeform that sometimes there's no semblance of form at all, which challenges even the most voracious music fans. Drummer Tony Buck riffs on the cymbals and creates sounds akin to a cat on a hot tin roof. He uses a drumstick with what appear to be shells attached that sometimes sounds as distant and pretty as wind chimes while, at others, it evokes the cacophonous racket of cutlery being washed in an aluminium kitchen sink. When the improvisational trio's arrangements take a discordant turn we wonder whether our drinks have been spiked. And that double bass totally cops it thanks to Lloyd Swanton's bow. They continually challenge our ears and senses of rhythm. Recruiting an opening act devoid of words is inspired, however.
Spotted in the bar queue during intermission just before Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds hit the stage: a gent poking his gut back into the waistband of his jeans while burping.
The Bad Seeds take their positions across the back of the stage. Warren Ellis is a touch forward. Nick Cave strides out all suited-up in navy with white shirt unbuttoned beyond his boney breastbone and waves casually with a forced grin. Anthrocene. "All the things we love, we love, we love, we lose." Ellis' tweaks perfectly replicate the sound of our collective hearts breaking. "It's a long way back and I'm begging you please to come home now." How Cave has suffered. He's forever changed.
Magneto. Cave exudes star quality, his mere presence elevates. "And in the bathroom mirror I see me vomit in the sink." He stalks across the stage's apron, familiarising himself with the crowd, making eye contact with his flock of adorers and taking mental notes on who to serenade later. Someone catches his eye and he stops mid-song. "Oh, man," he laughs, before concluding, "... splashed and splattered across the ceiling". Cave kisses a fanboi in the front row, bang smack on the lips. We cheer. "You're too fuckin' easy," Cave teases.
"I wanna tell you about a girl." Cave launches into From Her To Eternity and we're plunged into those persistent, gothic, bass piano chords. Cave conducts his crowd, urging some to move closer and then clasping the hands of chosen ones to prop him up as he leans in. His performance is gritty, full of ire and snarls. He detours down Jubilee Street. This arrangement is cathartic. We half expect Cave to shapeshift: "I'm transforming/I'm vibrating... Look at me now." Cave perches on the piano stool and bashes keys. "REALLY. Thank you," he says before tenderly navigating The Ship Song.
He requests that we sing the choruses of Into My Arms, because the verses are "too abstract", but we confidently launch into the first verse. "Fantastic!" Cave commends, taken aback. "Into my-y arms/Oh, lord." Our singalong is a prayer of adoration.
Enter the Twin Peaks moodiness of Girl In Amber's descending opening drone. "I used to think that when you died you kind of wandered the earth." Cave's timbre now with added gravitas. "If ya wanna bleed, just bleed." For I Need You, Cave performs seated, reading lyrics from a sheet on the music stand. "Nothing really matters when the one you love is gone." High notes are slightly out of reach. The Bad Seeds sound like a choir of angels.
The first bell chime of Red Right Hand (otherwise known as the Barossa Valley ad song) sends chills. Cave incorporates, "You'll see him on the Internet," into lyrics with a cheeky glint in his eye. Cave's right-hand man Ellis saws away at his battered violin, strings flying to close out The Mercy Seat. "And I am not afraid to die." Else Torp appears on the stage's back screen just before her Distant Sky vocal part and we brace ourselves. Of all Skeleton Tree's songs, this one most reminds us of "what happened"; Cave sits at the piano as if it knocks the wind out of his sails too. "They told us our gods would outlive us/But they lied." Ellis' violin bow draws our focus; he's always there for Cave. And on guitar, Ellis is a wild man who has obviously inspired Kirin J Callinan.
Someone down front announces it's their birthday and Cave wisecracks, "Happy birthday to anyone else who happens to have their birthday this year." The Weeping Song is different somehow; maybe because Cave has now written so many songs "in which to weep". During Nobody's Baby Now Ellis' violin solo transcends. A lady hollers. "I don't know what the fuck she's saying," Cave admits. He then invites a very energetic lady from the front row up onto the stage and she confusingly bounces around. As if you wouldn't go for a hug or a slow dance!?
Whether he's performing Stagger Lee or not, Cave will always be a "bad muthafucker". The Bad Seeds conjure an evil din that sounds like mass murder. Cave thanks us ("really") again, adding, "I don't mean just now, but for quite some time. You've been really amazing". As the final, gentle strains of Push The Sky Away float above our heads and away on the breeze we feel completely spent. The healing powers of music should never be underestimated. "You've gotta just keep on pushing/Keep on pushing/Push the sky away."