Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Live, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Friday 1st November 2013

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Alright, I know this is just an ‘I was there’ shot, not real photography, but no-one wants to be that dick waving a camera about at a gig do they, so deal with it.

Okay, let’s be honest, going to see Nick Cave is a bit of a religious experience for me, so if you’re expecting a rational, objective gig review here you really ain’t going to get one, sorry. I’ve already been in trouble once because Cave’s rather forbidding stage persona caused me to quail at the prospect of actually conversing with him, and after he posted my writeup on his forum I was descended upon by frothing acolytes furiously insisting that I was wrong and that he was awesome and how dare I etc etc etc…

To be fair, his onstage persona is still a pretty horrendously cavorting, rock-out-with-your-cock-out terror that I’m still not sure if I’d be confident to interview the guy without asking one of those questions which causes the whole conversation to be summarily terminated, but having seen him indulgently bat aside questions and have a casual chat at SXSW this year maybe that stuff really is just confined to his stage persona. There was a lot of satin-trousered bollock-thrusting on Friday, admittedly, but we came to see a fucking rock star in action, so what the fuck else did we want?

Part of my gripe with that 2008 gig was that Dig Lazarus Dig is a long way from my favourite Nick Cave album. There are some great bits, sure enough, but after the glorious triumphs of Lyre of Orpheus/Abbatoir Blues and the first Grinderman album the records which followed from both bands seemed to have all of the balls-out bluster of their predecessors but little of the actual heart and soul.

The Bad Seeds’ latest record, Push the Sky Away, came as a bit of a surprise in every sense, really. The sound was almost louche, without being cocky, and for all it ended up retaining a lot of the swagger which made Orpheus/Abbatoir and Grinderman great, the actual sound was a genuine surprise – for me at least. And above all, it was fucking brilliant. Five years on since the band in either incarnation had last excited me, this record was fucking ace. Not immediate, necessarily, or demandingly so, but the kind of album which just gets better and better and better after repeated listens.

That it fit in beautifully with the Seeds’ back catalogue was pretty evident from the bestial ending to Jubilee Street – only the second song in the set, but one which ended with Warren Ellis flinging his bow high into the air with triumphantly aggressive defiance. It was pretty fucking impressive, to be honest, feral yet controlled, and with that dark anthemic quality that nobody else in the world does even close to as well.

The rest of the set was pretty much like this. And absolutely drum-tight performance by a band who know how to – can I even still use these words in 2013? – ‘rock the fuck out’ with equal parts control and chaos. The Mercy Seat has been described (by my female pals, so simmer down) as the ultimate gusset-moistener, or was that Tupelo? Both of them did the trick for me anyway, whichever she meant, gusset or no gusset. And there is something pretty intensely sexual about watching the Bad Seeds play, rather emphasised by Nick screaming the Stagger Lee lyrics about crawling over fifty good pussies just to get to one fat boy’s asshole straight at some poor bloke’s face right down the front. It’s pantomime, in a sense, but pulled off to total perfection.

So there you go. I don’t know what else to say. It was an amazing night, with one of the best bands I think there has ever been, cavorting gleefully through a back catalogue of dark, menacing and magnificent songs. They tend every time I see them to play something of a greatest hits set, so what you see is generally a celebration of the band as much as a tour promoting the latest album, but they have so many incredible songs that they played tons of my favourites on Friday and still omitted three gigs’ worth of others.

They even played Stranger Than Kindness, including a hat-tip to Anita Lane, but without any hint as to the kind of intense personal entanglements which lead to them playing her song in the first place. Equally no explanation of P.J. Harvey’s influence on The Boatman’s Call – solely represented here by Into My Arms – but I guess this is the stuff which doesn’t need to be said. For all the slight sense of extravagance in this stuff, it does all seem to be coming from a place of emotional vulnerability and honesty, which automatically shunts it a country mile ahead of all the shit I get in my inbox by bands claiming to ‘sound a bit like Nick Cave’.

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