North Park, Ballarat., Australia
I was underwhelmed by the last 2 Nick Cave shows I had seen. Since his son has died in an accident, the remarkable Skeleton Tree has been released, a film, One More Time with Feeling that documented the recording of the new album and the struggle of recording that album has been released and now, finally, he is back on tour.
Over the journey we have had frantic neo thrash, southern gothic rock, macabre and tender ballads, calls to God and questioning of God, soundtracks and stringed soundscapes set to lyrics and, most recently, an album well reviewed in an electronic music mag. So, which Nick Cave will we see and how will this very different new stuff be accommodated?
Nick often comes down for Christmas to see his Mum with the Oz tours are often first or last on a tour. He also adds former Bad seed Conway Savage as additional keys. This time to start the tour he has gone all the way down south to Hobart, not that far short of the South Pole. The Ballarat gig is the next gig on the list. Ballarat is a regional city, famous for the goldfields uprising at the Eureka Stockade and, perhaps less famously, as the birthplace of his long time musical collaborator Warren Ellis.
I was glad to come up here rather than see one of the massive gigs at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne where he started his career in the Birthday Party and is now revered as a hometown musical hero. As well as being an unusual venue, today’s gig is a bit different as I stuffed my back. Got out of bed and it was gone – probably the hangover from chain sawing a couple of days before. So, Mrs Wells and I went looking to hire a wheelchair (really) with the idea of a prime spot in one of those disabled areas you see at gigs. It seems they are not readily available for hire, least of all on a Sunday, so instead I took a crutch and some Endone to set me partially right.
Under a clear sky and a blazing sun The Necks open. A wonderful trio that build waves of improvised music taking you on an unchartered journey. Not today – I’m literally stuck in my chair in the picnic section with crowd comprising a lot of Nick fans and a lot of locals out to have some fun at a rare international show. Complete waste of time. I can hear Tony Buck’s cymbals crashing, Lloyd Swanton’s bass thundering at times and Chris Abrahams piano introducing new motifs to the groove at times but the magic is absent. Virtually no one is listening where I am, and most seem relieved when it finishes. Maybe up front it was different.
As the sun sets the stars of the southern hemisphere appear and so does Nick in his trade mark black suit. The sound is fantastic as usual. I can’t recall ever hearing Nick Cave and The Bad Sound. Lighting is always great too. Remember all those lightbulbs for the Dig Lazarus Dig tour?
They open with Jesus Alone and Magneto from Skeleton Tree. The stage screen is all whites and greys, lots of grey. It seems they are going with the same themes as the black and white 3D movie One More Time With Feeling. Shapes unfold like a monochrome 60’s lightshow, pixilated close ups of Nick. Highly effective. The songs sound even better than on record as Nick floats around stage, no longer the manic southern preacher, more the balletic conductor.
The energy goes up quite a few gears with Higgs Boson Blues, From Her To Eternity, an old favourite of mine Tupelo (the king was born in Tupelo, the king was born in Tupelo) and I’m thumping my crutch in time as Nick is pacing the stage doing all his old moves – Nick is back in the saddle.
Jubilee Street follows, a much more aggressive version than the version on Push the Sky Away or on the last tour – another crutch thumper and I’m a lot happier for it.
Nick heads to the keys for The Ship Song and Into My Arms encouraging singalongs. Quite odd hearing a large crowd singing out “I don’t believe in an interventionist God”. It also struck me how little he changes his set list. Sure, the new songs get an airing but pretty much every tour we get Ship Song, Mercy Seat, Tupelo (or its sub Deanna), Red Right Hand and Her To Eternity. With such an extensive catalogue of high quality other songs certainly deserve an airing. Perhaps it is the time off, and, to be fair, he even flubbed the lines to the staple Red Right Hand. Interestingly he refers to lyric sheets on stage – no 12 autocue screens a la Springsteen.
Distant Sky was always going to be a challenge – what to do about the stunning vocals of Danish soprano Else Torp that are the highlight of the recorded version? Will they change the song? Will one of the Seeds step in? Turns out they opt for the original film footage of her singing. It works as it not like one of those duets with a screen and her voice amplified through this PA on a still night underneath the stars is sublime. Maybe she will join for some of the European leg. Maybe not.
Nick is quite chatty. recounting some stories of he and Warren visiting places in Warren’s past, he thanks the audience repeatedly and tells us how it is good to be playing again. It seems this tour, for him, is serving a cathartic purpose. The main set ends with Skeleton Tree …it’s alright now, it’s alright now. Perhaps, hopefully, it is starting to be alright now for Nick, his family and the Seeds.
Nobody’s Baby Now starts the encore. A delightful surprise prompted, says Nick, by a request the night before from a woman eating a “whopping” hamburger at the Ballarat fish and chip shop he and Warren were at. The violin by Warren on this is just lovely. Quite a contrast to a thundering version of Stagger Lee that follows with added lyrics even more depraved than in the past. Push The Sky Away ends the show. Not a favourite of mine but I get why he has ended with it…you’ve got to keep on pushing, keep on pushing.
Welcome back Nick.
Real mixed bag. From 25 to well into seventies. A lot of people up from Merlbourne and a lot of locals who didn’t appear to know his stuff. A lot of weed about too.
It made me think..
For touring I think Nick is ultimately a rocker. I can’t see tours of soundscapes taking over from the thundering Bad Seeds.