Pic: Nikolitsa Boutieros
For a week prior to Nick Cave’s arrival at Perth Arena, it seemed that God was in the house. Bruce Springsteen had played capacity shows for three nights, but as the lights dimmed and The Bad Seeds took the stage with Cave walking on last and taking a seat at the front of the stage, the New Boss was not the same as the Old Boss.
The triple-threat of ‘Anthropocene’, ‘Jesus Alone’ and ‘Magneto’ – all three songs from Cave’s latest album, ‘Skeleton Tree’ – set a hypnotic and mournful tone. It’s very difficult to witness the man perform and not pay heed (or heavy heart-ful) to the tragic loss of Cave’s son Arthur, in 2015. Cave rose from his chair and sung to the devoted at the front of stage, his stage-lit form casting a huge shadow over the seats at the left-hand side of the Arena, his hands floating above his head as he delivered wordy-twists and brought forth the slow-rush close of ‘Magneto’… ‘one more time with feeling’. ‘
Thank you… Perth’ he uttered as 2013’s ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ began. A man upfront offered Cave a gift. ‘Oh brother that’s fantastic’ he said with sincerity, however when the rapturous crowd made a mince of clapping along later in the song he was less generous, ‘You’ve got worse fucking timing than I have!’
The show opened up from here, unexpectedly in many senses. It was less a mournful introspection and more a testament to his body of work and bearing as a performer. The tour de force of ‘From Her To Eternity’ saw the stage lit up with Cave prowling and kneeling and ranting as Warren Ellis trashed his instrument, until the end of the song swung down like an axe. Oddly, a lone balloon floated innocuously towards the stage.
On the giant video screen at the back of the stage black and white storm footage flickered. Palms trees in a hurricane set off the menace of ‘Tupelo’ and the dark preacher was back at it again.
Yet the mood was played with between songs so casually. Cave had a ‘lightness’ about him. A fan asked Cave to get Ellis for them, with the singer responding, ‘Warren? Call him over yourself he’s not my puppy dog. He’s shy. He’s not as easy as I am’. Seconds later ‘Jubilee Street’ edged up the mood. It’s slow drone transforming into an amazing piano passage ushering Cave to scream ‘look at me now!’ to God and everybody.
‘The Ship Song’ and ‘Into Your Arms’ brought a sentimentality to the proceedings with Cave often using a higher register than his usual baritone (this would also surface during another classic, ‘Red Right Hand’). Two more songs from ‘Skeleton Tree’ – ‘Girl In Amber’ and ‘I Need You’ – seemed pleading at one moment and comforting the next, as Cave’s outstretched hand attracted hundreds more in its direction, before the powerful murderousness of ‘The Mercy Seat’ and newer songs ‘Distant Sky’ and ‘Skeleton Tree’ (title track) closed the main set.
Returning for an encore Cave hailed The Bad Seeds as ‘the greatest band on the planet. It’s a privilege to be singing in front of them’. They launched into ‘The Weeping Song’ with significantly better audience participation during a shuffling section near the end. ‘That was beautiful. That’ll now be known as the Perth Clap’. He laughingly acknowledged that it wasn’t meant as it sounded.
‘Stagger Lee’ was as violently incendiary as ever. Jaw-dropping, in fact. A master of his moods, Cave closed the evening with the haunting, heavenly ‘Push The Sky Away’.
He received the rapturous applause with clear pride in his band and his parting utterance seemed to say far more than the few words it took.
‘Thank you, really. For everything, thank you’.
One last time with feeling.