Fans of Nick Cave overheard at the rather different venue of The Royal Festival Hall the previous evening were worried that their Prince of Darkness had become too mellow. They should have been reassured by the passion and rage on display at Brixton – not to mention the sheer energy, during a set that lasted almost two hours. Not bad for a middle-aged father of four.
Giant shadows either side of the proscenium arch towered over a wonderfully gothic crowd, menacing and vampiric as Cave stalked around the stage looking like an undertaker in his dapper black suit. Maybe I just watched too many horror films when I was growing up, but there’s something totally mesmeric about the man. There’s also something of the crazed magician about him as he dances towards the Bad Seeds in between lyrics, reaching out with long arms, for all the world like a puppet-master trying vainly to control his creations.
Not that anyone would think of The Bad Seeds as puppets (apart from Warren Ellis’ unnerving habits of sinking to the floor when he isn’t playing and turning his back to the audience when he is). After providing little more than subtle backing to Cave’s beautiful piano at the RFH, they were let loose in Brixton. Ellis’ manic violin, also heard in his other band The Dirty Three, Blixa Bargeld’s guitar (and vocals) and Martyn Casey’s bass stood out but all played their usual generous part in providing the perfect backdrop for Cave as he ran through seven songs from the new album – including the forthcoming single Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow – and a good selection from the back catalogue.
Kicking off with As I Sat Sadly By Her Side might seem brave, as it’s not a natural barnstormer, but giving it the heavy treatment worked surprisingly well. Oh My Lord is different altogether – Cave at his manic, paranoid, Old-Testament-wrath best. Lime Tree Arbour was the only track from The Boatman’s Call, and led into perhaps the most exciting moment of the evening – Red Right Hand, complete with blood-red lighting. By this time a thoroughly warmed-up audience was having a very good time indeed. Other past classics included Do You Love Me, a wild Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry, The Weeping Song (sublime) and The Mercy Seat.
The first encore gave us the lovely title track of the new album (No More Shall We Part), Henry Lee (sans PJ Harvey) and Saint Huck and the second, The Curse of Millhaven from the celebrated Murder Ballads album. It’s said that this year’s tour is the first time this song has been performed live, which might explain the stooge brought on stage holding a crib sheet of the lyrics (well, it does have 13 long verses, and even the chorus changes each time). With the highest death count of any of his songs (23, including 20 children) the old, murderous Cave is still there to freeze the blood.
Too mellow? Not when he still writes opening lines like “I left by the back door, with my wife’s lover’s smoking gun”…