Nick Cave and Warren Ellis are in the middle of a mostly sold-out, cities-and-regions Australian tour, sprung from the sounds of their album, Carnage – released in 2021 and reviewed here – and the pages of Cave’s book with Sean O’Hagan, Faith, Hope And Carnage, released this year.
Wind Back Wednesday relocates to a show the two put on, alongside the rest of the Bad Seeds, nearly 20 years ago. Understanding full well that this year’s concerts likely will have little in common sonically, in volume, or attitude with this night (there is a better chance it will resemble this review of the 2019 Conversations With Nick Cave tour), it doesn’t hurt to let your freak flag fly occasionally.
So, let’s gird our loins and dive head-on into the maelstrom.
NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS
Enmore Theatre, December 3, 2003
IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT with thunderclaps that rocked you on your feet, cascading torrents that could sweep you up and deposit you elsewhere, and frequent flashes of lightning that illuminated and terrified at the same time. The air was ripe with a palpable feel of senses working overtime, of physical response, of, well, sexuality.
And apparently outside the Enmore Theatre the weather was pretty volatile too.
Having returned to the more rambunctious end of their spectrum last year after several tours where ballads ruled, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, even without the contribution of now-departed guitarist-cum-noisescape engineer Blixa Bargeld, weren’t likely to go quietly into this night. What they didn’t realise is that two hours later they would not be allowed to go at all.
Opening with Wonderful Life, with Cave at the piano, was disarming. Especially as the always elegant Cave had arrived in a dark suit, dark tie, high collared white shirt (with French cuffs he shot out regularly) and a closely cropped head of hair that looked nothing like the mane that’s defined him for more than 20 years.
Nice. Different. Polite.
Then Red Right Hand began ever so slow and low, and for a minute or so it looked like those of us standing at the lip of the stage might be better advised to sit down. But the quietness was merely the fire being stoked, and soon the predatory bass began to make its mark, the guitars whipping across the face of the song.
Then the two-fisted drums and percussion propelled West Country Girl into the face of Warren Ellis’ owl-on-the-hunt violin - where it was picked up, shaken and cast aside - and we were on our way.
(Photo by Ross A. Waterman)
Tupelo rumbled in like the quintessential summer storm (hot, heavy and a trail of debris in its wake), Do You Love Me? crashed even more heavily into us, and Mercy Seat spun Cave and the audience around like pale Dervishes as it whirled and whirled, increasing velocity until, just when you thought the outer skin of the song and your body would burst, it breathed out and slid down.
It was at this point that one oft-forgotten aspect of a Bad Seeds show was made stickily, wetly, noisily clear: this is one sexy band. Not individually necessarily, and not lyrically, but in the way they charge the atmosphere, speed your blood flow and heartbeat, and accentuate your responses.
You feel not just alive but exposed to the elements, greedy for them even.
It’s why after a long set, climaxing with a powerful From Her To Eternity, and a decent encore, the audience did not leave. The lights were on, the exit music playing and nearly ten minutes had passed since the band left the stage but the stomping and yelling and insistent demand for one more didn’t end.
This wasn’t enough; release hadn’t come yet.
And so Cave and the Seeds returned for a loose but urgent, almost desperate run through Deanna that saw bodies leaping high at the foot of the stage, with sweat flying.
Then, and only then, the storm passed and the air was still again.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis play:
The Palais Theatre, Melbourne, November 30 and December 2
Riverside Theatre, Perth, December 5-6
BCEC Great Hall, Brisbane, December 9
GCCEC, Gold Coast, December 10
TRECC, Tamworth, December 12
Civic Theatre, Newcastle, December 14
Sydney Opera House, December 16-18