Music Features

Nick Cave: Live at Hammersmith Apollo

Want a fright? Nick Cave is 50, and has been making music for over thirty years. And he’s still leaping around the stage like a snake-hipped cowboy half his age, and… it’s a bit weird. Yes, Nick Cave is a singular artist, and there’s really no-one else like him. Yes, he’s made his name from the savagery of his music, expressed in all different ways. Yes, he’s performing off the back of a new album that’s full of grinding, garage-y rock, just as Grinderman involved.

But it still seems a bit weird. Maybe it’s because quite aside from the added ferocity thrust into previously just creepy songs like Red Right Hand, Nick Cave seems shirty on stage, ticked off with his set-up, playing up to his image as the be all and end all of his band, the Pentecostal firebrand barking his own mystique and obsession to a packed Apollo. It’s almost as if he’s been told that he’s the entertainer, that this time around a grand piano and his voice just won’t do, that he’s got to take the event by the scruff of the neck, and yell at it like a buzz-cut drill sergeant.
Opening with Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!’s creepy Night of the Lotus Eater, the set is heavy on new material, with barely a space for the classics that the baying crowd keep crying out for. When the likes of Let Love In, Tupelo or Deanna are wheeled out, they’re aggressive, too aggressive by half; the subtlety is lost in a spitting, railing wall of noise, especially in Red Right Hand. An impolite crowd don’t help proceedings, clearly waiting for the Greatest Hits materials and largely talking through the new songs; but it doesn’t excuse the ragged performance values and lack of respect for the songs.
It’s a pity for the Bad Seeds themselves. This new, heavy style crushes those things which make them unique as a band, and as a result, they could have been any generic, teenage rock’n’roll band. The multi-talented wild-man-of-the-woods Warren Ellis is particularly underused – this is a man who almost single-handedly orchestrated some of the most beautiful alternative instrumental music of the last decade and who is here reduced to twanging a mic’d up mandolin. The sublime moments from No More Shall We Part or The Lyre Of Orpheus are all but ignored.
But it’s mostly sad for Nick Cave. It’s like he’s believing what others are telling him, which, if true, is a shocking state of affairs for this outspoken, focused artiste. At times it’s like his act is to reconcile Tony Bennett’s suave crooning with David Yow’s barking mad performances, with greasy rock’n’roll fronted by a high-kicking, all-singing, all-dancing pop idol. It’s a pity because Nick Cave is capable of utter beauty and near-perfection in his music, and he’s wasting it live, and playing it like it’s not the unique and fascinating body of work which it so patently is.