What unfolded at the Glasgow arena was more like something between noir musical theatre and a religious event; one man patrolling the edge of the huge Hydro stage in front of nearly 10,000 people, the audience hanging on his every roar, word and whisper as he, quite literally, got right in their faces, held their hands, stood on their shoulders and spent almost as much time in amongst them as he did on the stage.
At any given moment the huge pop-up screens would be showing black-and-white live close ups of Cave bellowing from the stage in his classic black suit, with half-unbuttoned white shirt and golden chain hanging off him. He’d be reaching into the crowd and receiving an endless wave of faceless arms and a stampede in return.
Any given song from the setlist was capable of putting you through more emotions than you can count on two hands. It was mesmerising.
Nick Cave is renowned for his rock and roll persona of course - his no holds barred, no fucks given approach to every aspect of music making, from his often remarkably unique (and open resentment of giving) media interviews to the deeply metaphorical, surreal nature of his lyrics and stories. And he carries this attitude right through to his live performances - only giving brief reminders that he is indeed just a human being with the occasional comic aside, laughing “this is sexual harassment in the workplace” after fans were initially a little too reluctant to let him return to the stage, for example.
A concern of going to see Cave live for the first time is commonly a fear that his show might be, for lack of a better phrase, slightly miserable. Especially now. His last album Skeleton Tree was written after the tragic death of his son after all. We’re sure we’ve aptly assured you at this point, however, that this could not be further from the truth.
Nick Cave lives for the stage. He’s as much a performer as he is a singer and songwriter, and that’s saying a lot. We’d struggle to name a better song writer out there past or present, someone who is as good at building worlds and characters and framing images as the Australian. And having now seen him live, we’d struggle to name a better performer too.
Beautiful, pensive numbers from 2013 album Push the Sky Away were turned into booming ballads - ‘Higgs Boson Blue’ and ‘Jubilee Street’ being two particular highlights of the set.
Cave seemed to sing at the crowd rather than to them at times. Or almost like he was so possessed by the music he forgot they were there at all. Other times, it seemed like he needed them in order to go on, wading through them while The Bad Seeds wailed on stage.
One song that must be mentioned is Skeleton Tree’s beautiful ‘Distant Sky’. The stripped back song shows Cave at his most vulnerable, yet almost euphoric. It saw a giant projection of Else Torp appear behind The Bad Seed for her stunning solo. It saw Warren Ellis hammering on violin. It was, quite frankly, astounding.
The encore saw stage invasions, Cave back on the shoulders of random audience members, and a mouthwatering performance of arrogance-overload ‘Stagger Lee’. The singer bellowing: “Those were the last words that the barkeep said, 'Cause Stag put four holes in his motherfucking head” from the middle of the crowd raised goosebumps.
You can tell when he’s performing that there’s no place Nick Cave would rather be. This is a man capable of directing thousands of people in clapping and singing instructions even when he’s wandered off stage, while literally walking on top of his fans. It makes perfect sense to be fair, the Australian is head and shoulders above any performer we’ve seen this year. And at 60 years old now, it’s hard to believe that the legendary musician is ever going to leave his prime.