I usually avoid large venues for any performance of any kind, venues like the Electric Halle in Düsseldorf are designed for sporting events, not music but the urge to finally see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds live again is too strong and I surrender to it. The location is so wrong for so many reasons, on so many levels. The current tour is promoting one of the most intimate recordings ever issued by the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree. It is raw, painful and anything but loud while, in stark contrast to the music being performed, the venue is so terrifyingly huge. Hard-core fans have been queuing since the morning to get the best positions… I find myself relegated to a terrible spot behind many very tall German people. There is only one choice, that is viewing the concert from the sides in what would be the equivalent of a balcony in a theatre but our position is so angled and remote that basically our vision is restricted to Nick Cave’s restless singing and a possessed Warren Ellis dancing around his violin. I miss the rest of the band entirely, though Cave and Ellis are the prime movers and seeing Cave’s interaction with his audience is a show in its own right. Before the concert I was unsure about the performance, listening to Cave’s shattered vocals in the documentary One More Time With Feeling was heart breaking, but I am relieved to see he has found a new powerful voice for his live performances and a renewed sense of humour. While performing, he endlessly jumps from the main stage to a detached slither running along the full length of the stage, where he can be in close proximity to his audience, often totally relying on their support to hold him up, their hands outstretched, in a continuous adoring embrace. I live the concert in fear, I imagine him disappearing in the gap, missing his step, tripped up by one hand too many stretched out at the last moment in the hope to even brush his legs for a brief nanosecond.
The acoustic is magnificent, despite the venue, despite the angled position which would only allow us to imagine the sound of the acoustic guitar played at times by George Vjestica, positioned at the extreme left side of the stage, the sound carried out in the opposite direction by the huge speakers. I can only imagine the percussions producing the sound I can hear, I can only imagine the presence of another multi-layered keyboard apart from the grand piano centre stage, the piano where Nick Cave at times joins in the playing and where he sits to play and sing Into My Arms accompanied only by the audience. Earlier on I mentioned his renewed sense of humour, apparent while he mocks a member of the audience for the lousy smart phone they were using to take his close-up picture, or again teasing the audience to “behave yourselves” when their hands got too close for comfort. I couldn’t even dream I would be smiling at a Bad Seeds concert.
Darkness has permeated the whole history of the Bad Seeds and the gruesome stories of Stagger Lee, the dead man walking in the Mercy Seat receive a new even gloomier lease of life in their elongated live version tonight. Red Right Hand, ever-present in the Bad Seeds’ set list, is updated for the 21st century with a topical reference to the obsessed tweeting of the sleazy red right hands in power right now. The Bad Seeds finish with a chorus of members of the audience led on stage by Nick Cave the piped piper, everybody singing “you got to keep on pushing, push the sky away”, in total enchanted respect of the physical boundaries. It ends up with loads of hugs, mainly for Warren Ellis after Nick Cave leaves the stage. He is not the only one able to hug Ellis, as he had boasted earlier in the concert, a few members of the audience in the chorus share the privilege tonight.
The whole evening is musically, lyrically and emotionally powerful and inspiring, a fully immersive and enriching experience. I am just looking forward to my next Bad Seeds experience. Just making sure I will not have to wait that long, this time around.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Düsseldorf Electric Halle 12 October 2017