Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Troxy, London - 30/11/08
03 Dec 2008
"even though he didn't play the song in question, and though this isn't the place to get in to one's own views on the existence or otherwise of an all powerful superbeing, there are moments when watching nick cave where i'm entirely convinced of the fact that god is in the house..."
Although Nick Cave has over the past few years well and truly thrown himself into the minutiae of English culture, setting up an idyllic home with his wife and kids in Brighton and listening to Gardener's Question Time whilst he strokes his increasingly impressive moustache, you still get the sense that he's a playful outsider looking in on a land that isn't really his, adopting a position that enables him to comment insightfully on us Brits whilst sporting a wry, knowing grin at all times.
It's for this reason that the choice of venue for this pair of London shows, of which this is the second, is particularly fitting. You'd have a hard time convincing many fans to embark upon the fair trek (and no matter where you're leaving from, it'll be a fair distance) to the hitherto unknown haunt of Limehouse's Troxy venue, but Cave devotees are here in their droves, and it's immediately apparent quite why it was chosen - the faded glamour of this old East End music hall, advertising nights of "ultimate fighting" and looking like a cross between Brixton Academy and the hotel in The Shining, is entirely apt. It's the kind of building that would prompt a big smile from underneath that moustache.
Sonically, it's soon clear that this room also suits the sound of the ever more muscular Bad Seeds a treat. Tonight will largely not be about nuance, but about the band presenting themselves as a force of nature, nature's masters even, capable of summoning both the harrowing storms of 'Tupelo' and intense burning sunlight of 'Papa Won't Leave You Henry' at will. Though this is the end of a tour, they sound like a collective still re-invigorated by their leader and his right hand man Warren Ellis' daring to have an affair with another act, namely the stunning mid life crisis rock group that is Grinderman. They've subsequently upped their game, and their volume - minus the debut From Her To Eternity, every album in the Bad Seeds canon is mined tonight, and nigh on all selections are given a radically raucous makeover by this new Badder Than Ever Seeds. Early highlight 'The Weeping Song' might now be devoid of departed band member Blixa Bargeld's inimitable baritone, but his errant contribution is amply replaced by Cave at his most thrillingly lecherous, and his band treating it to a reinvention so thumping it almost bordered on heavy metal.
Perhaps it's because they're currently so adept rocking the f**k out that even in what is largely a greatest hits set, so many of tonight's finer moments come courtesy of fourteenth and most recent album Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, the Bad Seeds' most garage rock selection yet. Watching Warren Ellis play a different instrument or pedal with what was seemingly every limb on his body simultaneously during 'We Call Upon The Author' was as genuine a delight for us as it was a huge pleasure for him, part of the constant theatre that went on between Ellis and Cave which found both forever playing up to each other's dramatic tendencies in often successful attempts to get the other one to giggle (whist the rest of the Bad Seeds, surely one of the world's most impressive backing bands, somehow keep it together at the back - Conway Savage, take a bow). The dreamy 'Hold on to Yourself' that heralded the beginning of the set, no nonsense 'Midnight Man' and eponymous title track were a few of Dig!!!'s other pleasures aired, but the fact that rockier back catalogue material such as the celebratory hoe-down 'Deanna' and guttural wrenching of 'Tupelo' certainly make more sense in the context of a guitar as opposed to piano based set is another of that most recent album's myriad charms.
For the sake of not exhausting himself, it is necessary for Cave to include some slightly less cacophonous numbers, and because of the way things are organised to lean towards sonic chaos at all times tonight, sometimes these subtler moments are ever so slightly harder to love. It's either a case of the band struggling with a song they "routinely f**k up" such as 'You've Got Me Eating Right Out of Your Hand' (taken from what Cave refers to as "the much maligned Nocturama album", going on to explain how "soon you'll all realise what a f**king masterpiece that was... it just had some sh*tty songs on it, that's all...") or their being so eager to get back to rocking ever so hard that things like the usually beautiful and still very pretty 'Into My Arms' come across as somewhat rushed. Conversely, on the rarely aired 'Love Letter' and 'Red Right Hand' (the latter being one of the few old tracks treated to a rendition that nearly resembles how it sounded on the album), such problems aren't present, and the band go about professionally nailing it.
Towards the end, it dawns on you that there are only really three topics that truly fascinate Cave - sex, death and religion ("I was shagging dead a priest the other day..." goes the Simon Munnery joke). Allusions to intercourse are everywhere, no more graphically than in the frustrated assault of 'Hard on For Love' that knocks all in attendance for six. What with Cave being an Australian, it feels right to use a cricketing reference. Death, too, provides the set with some of its finest moments of inspiration - be it the defiant death row inmate star of 'The Mercy Seat' or the eponymous, mass murdering "mean mother**ker called Stagger Lee - Mister Stagger Lee!" who brings things to a close. But there's a very spiritual element to much of it that you shouldn't ignore, a part to Cave that yearns for an acceptance by a highcer power even though sinning has proved throughout his career to be such irresistible fun - much like this life changer of a gig. Even though he didn't play the song in question, and though this isn't the place to get in to one's own views on the existence or otherwise of an all powerful superbeing, there are moments when watching Nick Cave where I'm entirely convinced of the fact that God Is In The House.