Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Silver Ray

Wolverhampton Civic Hall

7/11/04

(review + pic by MWJ)

Let’s travel back in time. 1991, an officially hijacked Llandrillo college minibus load of reprobates from the Aberconwy area descend upon the Reading festival. From Thursday through to Sunday much drinkage, druggage, besides phenomenal music entertainment from the likes of Cop Shoot Cop, the Beastie Boys, Pavement, Rollins Band, Public Enemy and countless others. Drawing to a close on the last night, we left Mudhoney (who unironically seemed to be offended by mud being hurled at them on stage {earlier we’d dodged a used L7 tampon coming in the other direction}) to nip the couple of miles into town to replenish depleted resources, then back to the van on the site itself a good mile from the stage. Despite my half hearted fervour I can’t persuade anyone to head back early to watch Nick Cave as the consensus is to wander down for Nirvana headlining after him, and I concede to stay with company for what turned out to be an historic event. But f**k it, I had to listen to strains of "The Mercy Seat" etc. drifting over the night air, and it was scant consolation, especially when I subsequently slipped further down the slope into addiction/appreciation for his music as time went on.

Wouldn’t have thought it would have been so long but eventually the planets are aligned and it’s time to nail this ghost. Paying the most money I had ever paid for a concert ticket, probably a fair chunk as what we’d paid for the entire festival back in the day. First time in the Civic Hall, the punk and metal gigs I’ve previously been to are usually tolerated in the adjoining smaller Wulfrun Hall. Big place, with circle balcony, there’s an interestingly eclectic crowd, understandable really for this guy who flirts with mainstream acceptance (duet with Kylie, anyone?) and yet maintains a twisted oddness that appeals to the misfits. I consider myself more in that category, scum (deliberately) lowering the tone of the place, not used to sharing these live experiences with the smartly dressed chattering classes. I wonder if they would at all comprehend (maybe I’m being to judgemental as I hang round with no-one to talk to) the vicious drug-fuelled assault of his former post-punk band The Birthday Party as being in any way related to the mellow, Jools Holland friendly balladeering of some of his more recent work, for me it’s all good, a steady vein (like a roadmap of hell) tapped through the years, Mr Cave dancing on the knife edge between genius and insanity, and striking emotional nerves through his twisted lyrical exprssion. Wryly amused at the presence of parents with kids, brave but probably fine introduction to discussions on sex and death for them.

Wasn’t necessarily expecting a support band but from Australia (maybe Nick offering something back to his original homeland) we have Silver Ray. A three piece gathered in a cosy corner of the stage, consisting of guitarist, drummer and keyboards/pianist, they play an instrumental set that could suffice as background music but in the epic songs they often pick up speed, drive and intensity to grab the attention. My only reference would again be the atmospherics of God Speed! You black emperor except these had maybe a more positive vibe. The guitarist brought to mind David Byrne with his playing from the hip and elaborate caresses of chords. The girl pianist was certainly getting into it at times as well, rocking out, eyes closed, obviously feeling it. Still, ultimately, can’t say they made much of a difference to the evening one way or another for me, I was anticipating other things.

The band numbered 12 all in but still was spread out on the expanse of the stage. Two drummers/percussionists, 2 keyboard/pianists, bass, violin, guitar (no Blixa Bargeld this time, shame), 4 backing singers, and Nick up front, with an upright piano for himself to join in on. There’s a moment or two’s hesitation, the odd heckle, but apparently he’s "finding his centre", with an amusing wiggle of the hips, and then they lurch into the show with "The lyre of Orpheus", slow paced, harking back to very early material. General amusement at the backing singers having to finish on echoed couplet of "oh momma, what a bummer".

This is the title track of one half of their newly released double album, and as it turns out the entire main set is tracks from here. Me not having this could have been a bit of a disadvantage (heard singles plus recent aforementioned tv appearance) but it turned out not to be the case at all, as it was a fantastic array of tunes that captured and convinced on this first listen, ensuring future purchase but also satisfaction that they seem to have found such good form again, and obviously, rightly, confident enough to go for broke in playing them all. The blues punk vibed anger had seemed spent with the mellow crooning of middle age a few years back but now there was a glorious variety and vitality running through a fair proportion of the material. Nick, skinny and besuited, was fair throwing himself around, in his jerky angular gyrating way, still elvish young looking and full of controlled fire in his delivery. Ever so slightly frustrating for me that the crowd were largely observers rather than participants in sharing the energy inspired by the music (I even heard one guy working his way through close to the stage, with girlfriend and pints "don’t worry there won’t be a mosh pit", pah, lightweights). Still, I got my groove on as far as I was/am able.

So, we had a galloping, charged numbers like "There she goes, my beautiful world" and "Supernatural", inspired chorus hooks in the likes of "Abattoir Blues" and "Easy Money", and still heartaching emotional dirges like "Children" and "Messiah Ward". Through all there was plenty of the turn of phrase/lyrical genius that I think makes him unique (although according to a biography all band chip in suggestions to find just the right word for a killer line or rhyme). "life shuffling past at a low interest rate"(easy money) and "I look at you and you look at me and deep in our hearts we both f**king know it, That you weren’t much of a muse, but then I weren’t much of a poet" (there she goes…) two gems in passing. There are some impressively mad attacks upon the violin and keyboards by their players at times, but they can all show perfect, subtle restraint as appropriate too. The backing singers cock up early on and later again in the set and this becomes a source of amusement for band and crowd throughout, interesting situation, presumably they’re hired in and must wonder what they are involved in at times. Dunno, think this is the first time I’ve ever seen any with a band. All in all the set must have run for over 90 minutes and it just flew by, truly entertaining.

So, inevitably really, the encore was going to be a rewarding back catalogue trawl. There’d been shouts for "Tupelo" and "Mercy Seat" (plus a whole lot more obscure numbers) throughout the night but with so much to pick from there’s always going to be a tinge of disappointment that they are not aired, wiped away by thrills of hearing "The Weeping song", "Deanna", "Henry Lee", "Red right hand" and "City of Refuge", mood lighting coming into good effect. Some shouts of John Peel, bring a little wave of heartfelt applause, maybe just a nod of acknowledgement from on stage, nothing needs to be said really. Beyond the next number, "God is in the House", anyway. Finally, an extended uproarious version of the sick/slick motherf**king horror of a murder ballad that is "Staggerlee" ("That’s MISTER Staggerlee!"). Explain that one to the kids. Of course we’re left wanting more but I’d be happy to go back and get some. Hundreds of happy customers leaving into the night.