Sydney Theatre, January 20
When they go low, we go high. Or maybe, we’re not that bad, really. Not all of us. There’s proof.
In the encore, after taking an audience request for the febrile, resentful Jack The Ripper (“I’ve got a woman, she strikes me down with a fist of lead”) and silencing any thought of audience chatter with what might be the flipside – or twisted extension - to Jack The Rippper, the leering, murderous Stagger Lee (“It’s plain to see I’m a bad mother….er called Stagger Lee”), there was a pause, a change of pace.
Not necessarily a change in attitude though, given it was dedicated “to that guy”, presumably the orange-hued demagogue hours away from assuming great power in wintry Washington.
After all the song is called People Ain’t No Good and Nick Cave sang in its deceptively tender verses of how “the winter stripped the blossoms bear/A different tree now lines the streets, shaking its fists in the air”.
But at its end, Cave almost apologetically said the song had been written some years back in a difficult time and “people are actually pretty good … they’ve improved vastly”. He meant it. And we believed it.
In a show which might have been expected to be coloured, if not weighed down, by the solemn album and tragic circumstances which preceded it, a kind of collective optimism, of strength from unity reigned instead.
He may have begun the night singing Anthrocene and Jesus Alone seated at a chair, subdued, internalised, but like the abandoned he mentions – the young man “covered in blood that is not yours”, the young girl “full of forbidden energy flickering in the gloom”, the “African doctor harvesting tear ducts” – Cave sought an avenue out.
That avenue was in the defiance of despair - he ended the night singing “you’ve got it, just keep on pushing keeper … pushing the sky away”. It was in being anything but alone.
That was being there with us, certainly: exchanging yowls and energy at the very front where he teetered on upheld hands at the mosh pit barrier, bent down right into faces during Tupelo as he exhorted them; carrying that energy to the upper reaches of this room with volume and charisma and receiving it back with bells on.
But it most clearly was there in the unspoken but symbiotic relationship with the Bad Seeds. And not just Warren Ellis who sometimes feels like the shadow come to dancing life behind Cave, or his avatar in an alternative game existence.
The Bad Seeds’ ability to minimally underscore, to sustain rather than intrude on Cave in the early quiet passages, and again later when Into My Arms and Girl In Amber passed like breaths, was remarkable.
Their progression through the shifting upward gears of Higgs Boson Blues to the first explosion of power and release in From Her To Eternity was less surprising perhaps but no less potent.
At all times they had his back, yet it was more than that. It was a self-sustaining, intuitive, reinforcing and enriching entity.
It gave meaning and it fed reward: in the rhythm - sometimes I feel like I could ride home on Martyn P Casey’s basslines; sometimes I could live inside them – and in the force; in the space and in the solidity within.
This interaction, and this concert, was a communal response to an individual concern and it was greater for that.
People, together, ain’t too bad.