I wasn’t sure whether to write about Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ concert in Dublin. As I was walking out of the Kilmainham Royal Hospital grounds I wanted the people around me to stop talking. The audience had been perfectly quiet and totally into the show while the band were on stage. I wanted that atmosphere to continue, and I wondered if trying to put words down about the night would devalue it somehow.
I go back a long way with Nick Cave. I wanted to like him before I actially liked him. I was an avid reader of Dutch music paper OOR (Ear) and Nick looked so cool in those black and white Anton Corbijn photograps. I acquired the Birthday Party’s compliation 'Junkyard' on cassette, but found it quite unlistenable. I was persistent and bought From 'Her To Eternity' on vinyl and persevered with it, in the way people did when they owned less music, but it was really only when he released covers album 'Kicking Against The Pricks' that he started making music that I could truly get behind.
I have followed his career ever since, seeing him live and buying albums, but also skipping tours and albums. I have mostly seen the Bad Seeds at festivals, the last time being particularly memorable, when they were on before Mumford & Sons at Glastonbury, scaring the life out of the Mumford faithfull who were already in position.
Slowly but surely Nick Cave gas gone from being an alternative artist to selling out arenas. Whilst some lose their creative spark once they overcome their addictions, Nick has only become more successful now that he is a family man who goes to an office to do his creative work. The tragedy of losing his 15 year old son Arthur is brought up by the media all the time, but then Nick has chosen to share part of his coping process with the public. And you sense that people love him even more for that. Nick is fast becoming the next Leonard Cohen, a sharp-suited revered older statesman who is producing his best work later on in his career. Leonard coincidentally also performed at the Kilmainham Royal Hospital in what have become legendary concerts.
For Nick Cave, this is his first headline show in Ireland in ten years. Listening to the languages in the queue it is obvious that many travelled from abroad. Their T-shirts also tell a story. I see Primus, Neil Young, The War On Drugs, Throbbing Gristle, Springsteen (mine) and quite a few Morrissey shirts.
A note for anyone planning to attend a big outdoor show in Ireland soon: Security has gotten much stricter. Only an A5-size bag is allowed. I noticed many daypacks left at the entrance, premably by people hoping to retrieve them afterwards. As a cyclist I struggled to restrict my luggage. What about my lights and reflective belt? They take up valuable space. In a curious case of airport security check reversal you actually had to put all your layers of clothing on, walk through security and once out of sight you can take them off again and stuff them in a clandestine plastic bag. Of course tight security is a sensible and necessary thing, but you do wonder why they have to take sandwiches and bananas off people. On the plus side (I noticed this recently at the Rolling Stones in Croke Park as well) drinking water is now freely available at clearly marked spots once inside.
“It is a beautiful day in the modern world!”, exclaimed a beaming Patti Smith, who was billed as very special guest. Patti and her band played for an hour an fifteen minutes. She was in great voice and full of enthusiasm, and she played a great and varied set. ‘Beneath The Southern Cross’ was dedicated to Sam Shepard, who loved Dublin. It turned into a long jam and was the highlight of the set for me. ‘Because The Night’ was played for Patti’s late husband, Fred Sonic Smith. It had dawned on me prior to the show that I was into Patti Smith before I discovered Bruce Springsteen.
Midnight Oil’s ‘Beds Are Burning’ was an interesting cover choice. ‘People Have The Power’ never fails to give me goosebumps. I am a big fan of Patti’s and I reckon she will go down a storm at the upcoming Cambridge Folk Festival, however everything I have recently seen pales in comparison to Nick Cave’s performance.
The sun had just disappeared behind the stage as the Bad Seeds took to the stage. I always maintain that the best sound for a concert is in an open outdoor space (not a stadium) and it was indeed perfect here. The hospital grounds make for a lovely setting, with the stage at the bottom of a natural slope. It looked quite like the Park Stage area at Glastonbury. The pit had filled up reasonably slowly. I had opted to lean on the pit barrier, which gives an onubstructed view and great sound.
Without any props or trickery Nick Cave has really mastered the craft of connecting with a massive audience. It is a proper performance, a show for a theatre, yet it also works on a summer evening in a park. It is wonderful to see. Nick comes down from the stage frequently, standing right before the audience, touching their hands, singing directly at people. He is dressed in an immaculate grey suit, with shiny black shoes and green socks. The Bad Seeds are all in suits as well, and they are superb. Warren Ellis in particular is hard to take your eyes off, with his mad shape-throwing and his violin-playing, sometimes quietly beautiful, sometimes genuinely terrifying (‘Red Right Hand’).
‘From Her To Eternity’, which I willed myself to like 34 years ago, was played early on and was terrific. Nick worked the crowd like a messiah figure, but it never came across as over the top. There was a welcome dose of humour as well, for example when Nick changed the lyrics of a song and sang to an audience member to put his phone away, or when he took a T-shirt from the crowd to wipe himself like Elvis before giving it back.
Screens were used to good effect without distracting from the goings-on on stage. There was a lovely image of Nick’s wife Susie walking away from the camera on Brighton Beach during ‘Girl In Amber’. Danish singer Else Torp could be seen singing on video during ‘Distant Sky’. The screen later showed Nick’s face as he sat at the piano, singing and looking straight at the camera, looking lonesome and concentrated.
During ‘Stagger Lee’ Nick vanished into the crowd altogether, walking through the pit and emerging on an elevation at the pit barrier. From here he directed the audience into flamenco-style clapping. Later audience members were allowed to come up onto the stage. I had read in reviews that this is something that happens at the shows, but it was still fascinating to see it. It looked a little messy at first, but it worked well. They sat down when Nick told them to, clapped on cue, danced, stood up, sang. What a unique opportunity for fans to partake in that way.
They stayed on stage for the final song, ‘Push The Sky Away’, with Nick interacting with them and at other times walking out in front, singing to all of us. It was a beautiful atmospheric song to end the show with, the Bad Seeds all adding to the chorus as well. There was such a prolonged applause afterwards that I did wonder if there would be an encore, but the crew were already busy unplugging things. In any case, it had all been perfect.
A beautiful day in the modern world. Thank you Nick Cave. Gig Of The Year.