Topping an already impressive bill, the scale and intensity of this exhilarating performance will live long in the memory
The final day of this year’s All Points East two-weekender offered arguably the strongest line up of the festival, headliners Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds understandably being the main draw with their only UK show of 2022, but also being supported by a compelling selection of acts further down the bill. Nick Cave has endured a period of immense personal distress over recent years with the tragic deaths of two of his sons, and while sections of tonight’s set rightly reflected this, the two hour set also took in plenty of other areas of his back catalogue to result in a truly spellbinding show.
His interactions and forays into the crowd are the focus of attention but the role played by the other Bad Seeds is equally important in creating viscerally powerful musical settings. Warren Ellis, directing proceedings with his violin, and drums and percussion rock Jim Sclavunos in particular are transfixing presences, and the line up is further expanded tonight by new keyboardist Carly Paradis and three besequinned backing vocalists, the latter bringing out the gospel side of Cave’s preacher-man writings. Tracks from Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus dominate the early stages, Get Ready For Love and There She Goes My Beautiful World being traditional, singalong rockers of sorts and O Children striking a more sensitive, subdued note.
From Her To Eternity is an early, infernal highlight, Cave reappropriating its ‘cry cry cry’ lyric later throughout the set in a style that flits between the comic and the delirious. He continues to single out members of the crowd, clasping hands, getting them to hold his microphone and arranging for them to sit on the stage in one case. Personal epiphanies are undoubtedly had. One upwardly grasping hand from the crowd is a little too eager, prompting him to humorously bemoan “sexual harassment in the workplace”. He also shares an amusing anecdote about a fan contacting his management company to complain that he and Ellis spitting on stage was unhygienic (“You should see what me and Warren get up to backstage…”).
Jubilee Street is introduced by Cave as a “terrible song” which it quite patently isn’t, starting slowly, even gently, before escalating to a splendidly unholy racket by its end, after which we get a trio of songs from Ghosteen and Skeleton Tree. Cave announces that Ellis will sing backing vocals on Bright Horses which elicits chants of “Warren! Warren! Warren” from the crowd. Cave later movingly gives him a kiss on behalf of the audience. I Need You is played by Cave solo at the piano, a silence falling around the crowd as the poignant nature of the song hits home. The affecting outro of “just breathe, just breathe” also finds its way into other songs later on, Cave threading key lines throughout the set. At times, listening almost feels like we’re intruding on a personal moment of catharsis.
There’s further gravitas and solemnity in Waiting For You, which is quickly followed by the apocalyptic scenes of Tupelo (during which a piano stool and mic stand go flying), one of several striking transitions in the set. Another soon follows, when the final song of the main set White Elephant – taken from the recent Cave/Ellis album Carnage – sees him sing of how he’ll “shoot you in the fucking facе if you think of coming around here” and minutes later in the encore he’s sat behind the piano playing the impossibly beautiful Into My Arms. Violence, beauty, confrontation, tenderness, such are Cave’s lyrical swings. The gothic pair of Red Right Hand and The Mercy Seat conjure imagery of violent deaths, the latter slower than on record but still utterly absorbing. The closing stages see further variety, a rampaging City Of Refuge alongside the low key Ghosteen Speaks and the gloriously cathartic singalongs of The Ship Song and a bonus The Weeping Song. The latter, don’t you know, is a song in which to weep. In a set of joy, sadness and shades between and beyond, it’s a fitting end.
Earlier, The Smile draw a large crowd who come to hear tracks from new album A Light For Attracting Attention. “We’re called The Smile, in case you’ve just wandered in expecting something else,” clarifies Thom Yorke. Him and Jonny Greenwood may be the focal points but drummer Tom Skinner (also of Sons Of Kemet) plays an equally important role, especially on the likes of Pana-vision with its Pyramid Song-like textures. The set shows how versatile they are as performers, in particular Yorke – we get snotty, angsty Thom on You’ll Never Work In Television Again and plaintive, fragile Thom on the likes of Free In The Knowledge. They play a new song which has Greenwood detuning and retuning his guitar all throughout while drums rattle which suggests the project still has creative legs to run.
New album Everything Was Beautiful has found Spiritualized in rejuvenated mood of late but today sees Jason Pearce choose to revisit former glories rather than play new material. It’s a shame given the the strength of the new songs but the high intensity, gospel-tinged, strobe-lit garage rock still more than hits the spot and the likes of Shine A Light remains a Spiritualized classic. Jehnny Beth and Anna Calvi both offer alluring mid-afternoon options. Beth erupts on stage looking like she’s just been energised by a swim and she and her backing twosome serve up pulverising bass, sassy moves and presence at least as commanding as her voice. Her trick of surfing into the crowd on the shoulders of bouncers happens several times, and works well in More Adrenaline, a song whose two-word lyrics are easy to remember. She also finds time to include an impressive cover of Closer by Nine Inch Nails. Calvi is another artist with a strident voice and distinctive sound. On one song she deploys lyric-free shrieking that recalls Diamanda Galàs, and later on plays guitar with her mic; versatile doesn’t begin to cover it.
Malian guitar troupe Tinariwen aren’t quite as dynamic but a quietly shamanic quality still runs through their music, even if their arid sound is now a more familiar prospect to when they first appeared back in 2006. When their slow burning playing eventually hits its groove they’re a hypnotic spectacle. Kae Tempest is an altogether different proposition and their set provides another opportunity to appreciate the power and directness of latest album The Line Is A Curve. No Prizes and it’s refrain of “I just wanna keep climbing” remains an impactful moment and Salt Coast arrives with suitably poetic resonances and confident delivery. Europe Is Lost and Ketamine For Breakfast from 2016’s Let Them East Chaos album are also medleyed up. They appear on stage with another musician who we don’t catch the name of but they’re kept busy, playing synths, deploying backing tracks and contributing backing vocals. She gets a welcome break when Kae delivers an a cappella stream of consciousness version of Grace. Unfortunately, this is the clashiest time of the day, meaning we can’t quite squeeze in Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy’s set; a similar problem sadly befalls Michael Kiwanuka at the other end of the site later.
There was no such problem early on as we beelined to the main stage to appreciate Joan As Police Woman’s assured performance with her band in full. Tracks from The Solution Is Restless, Joan Wasser’s 2021 collaboration with the late Tony Allen and The Invisible‘s Dave Okumu, stand in starkly chilled contrast with her solo material, with the likes of Geometry Of You and The Barbarian suggesting the musical equivalent of waking up and stretching. She finishes by playing a beautiful solo piano cover of Blur’s Out Of Time. Hurray For The Riff Raff had previously got things off to a solid start, playing songs from latest album Life On Earth that soared, bustled and captivated. Alynda Segarra is a quietly charismatic performer and it’s easy to imagine her playing to bigger crowds higher up the bill.
Yet, for all of the impressive sets witnessed today nothing quite compares to Nick Cave. The scale and intensity of his extraordinary performance will live long in the memory, and confirmed him as one of the world’s most exhilarating performers.
Additional reporting by Michael Hubbard