There is a school of thought that says rock is a young person’s game, that when a musician reaches a certain age, their choice of career ceases to be either interesting or dignified. Nick Cave, along with his peerless supporting cast of Bad Seeds, blows such notions sky-high.
From his days fronting The Birthday Party, this latter-day harbinger of the apocalypse has remained one of music’s more compelling figures. Where maturity has brought about a decline in so many brilliant careers, 56-year-old Cave simply gets better and better. Going on this year’s brooding LP Push The Sky Away, with its watery tales of voyeurism and violence, you have to conclude that he’s incapable of writing a bad song.
Tonight’s show in Cave’s adopted hometown similarly reveals a songwriter and band at the peak of their powers. From “Jubilee Street”, a pensive tale that swells into a fiery squall of violin, guitars and howling Bad Seeds, to the intense, erotic “From Her To Eternity”, written nearly 30 years ago, these are songs that leave you breathless.
Dressed like a Satanic game show host in a black satin suit and scrupulously shined shoes, Cave is magnetic as ever, rearing back and forth into the crowd and lurching into exaggerated, hip-thrusting poses that, with anyone else, would be patently ridiculous. This version of the singer may be more restrained than his Birthday Party incarnation which would emerge bruised and bloody from gigs, but the communion displayed here with his acolytes, at its most intense during the brilliantly protracted “Stagger Lee”, when he roars in the faces of those at the front and clasps their outstretched hands to his chest, is a thing to behold.
The set is a comprehensive one, a magnificent rummage through the band’s back catalogue that reminds us of both the fire-and-brimstone melodrama and dark humour in Cave’s songwriting. Thus, we revisit “The Mercy Seat”, a song in which a convicted murderer compares his plight to that of Christ on the cross; the Paradise Lost-referencing “Red Right Hand”, ever popular yet entirely undiminished; and the exquisite “Higgs Boson Blues” in which Cave envisions, among other apparitions, Miley Cyrus face down in a swimming pool. At the end of this two-hour maelstrom, Cave and co emerge poised, professional and with their dignity entirely intact.
Touring until 1st November (www.nickcave.com)