A seated gig at the Festival Theatre is not the usual set up for an audience with Nick Cave. Looking out at the crowd part way through Sunday night’s performance, Cave commented that it was strange to see everyone sitting down. This was always going to be a bit different and, as it turned out, quite remarkable.
With a reputation for high energy live shows, there are a number of gentler compositions that only occasionally make it onto a Bad Seeds’ setlist or get swamped by the blistering wall-of-sound of other songs. This show was an opportunity for such numbers to breathe in a venue where subtleties are not lost, demonstrating that Cave is a versatile songwriter whose poignant and beautiful compositions can be as moving as they are visceral.
That’s not to say that everything was soft and mellow. With room for more varied dynamics, the quieter moments afforded the grand crescendos greater power, particularly in “Red Right Hand” and “Jubilee Street”, which closed out the main set. Cave too was in an energetic mood. Leaving the piano, he paced and postured at the front of the stage, interacting playfully with the appreciative audience throughout the night.
Things were also thankfully a little on the loose side. It would have been a shame if the refined setting had prompted an over-rehearsed, note-perfect performance. On the contrary: the setlist seemed half improvised, requests were taken and Cave joked at one point about missing a chord or two.
Billed as a solo gig, there were a handful of songs performed by just Cave on the piano, but for the rest of the evening he was backed by a slimmed down version of the Bad Seeds, led by talented multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis.
Starting punctually at 8pm with the atmospheric “We Real Cool”, Cave cheekily ushered in latecomers during the introduction. Leaning heavily on the Bad Seeds’ latest album Push the Sky Away, the recent material stacked up favourably against the likes of “Into My Arms”, “Love Letter” and “The Mercy Seat”.
After two hours on stage, the final songs of the night summed up the show fittingly. “Jack the Ripper” was followed by “People Ain’t No Good”, representing the two sides to Nick Cave: the loud, baroque fury of one song resolving to a mellow, poignant conclusion with the other.
It was quite a treat to behold both on display in the one show.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor