ICC Sydney Theatre, 21/01/17
It’s hard to picture a more revered figure in Australian music right now. Through a combination of variance and near-flawless consistency, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have reached a new peak on the back of 2016’s soul-crushing Skeleton Tree. Cave has remained a rare icon, someone who draws from the darker side of the spectrum, but reaches out to an expansive audience through his undeniably unique songwriting and live performances that are guaranteed to leave any audience in complete awe.
The question on everyone’s lips tonight as they piled into Sydney’s ICC Theatre was “How will Skeleton Tree translate live?” – on record it is a sparse and brooding affair, with a more minimalistic musical approach, filled out by a dark beauty through space. There was a complete sense of unknown as the band slowly entered the stage to their set positions, building things steadily into what became ‘Anthrocene’ as Cave joined to a deafening crowd response.
Majestic is an understatement for the evening. The Bad Seeds are like a well-oiled machine in their delivery, and not in the sense of being predictable, but in terms of how they gave each song in the set a new life. This was further animated by Cave’s enthralling stage presence; it was hard to take your eyes off him as he used his undeniable swagger to shift between the stage and a platform where he would completely engage with the audience, touching hands, dancing and using his performance to channel everything he had to not only the front row, but the 9,000 capacity and completely sold out venue.
The setlist consisted of an initial section heavily dedicated to Skeleton Tree songs. The aforementioned broodiness and minimalism of these numbers had a new life breathed into them, through The Bad Seeds’ fuller live sound and Cave’s vibrant stage presence. It may read as somewhat of an anomaly compared to the feeling of the record, but the whole live delivery gave the songs a new level of elegance.
The last quarter of the set was filled with classics – ‘Into My Arms’, ‘The Mercy Seat’, ‘Nobody’s Baby Now’, ‘Papa Won’t Leave You Henry’ – sending the crowd into a state of exuberance as they sang along with every word. Particular highlights were the light after the darkness of ‘Breathless’ and the trampling noise breakdowns of ‘Red Right Hand’ and ‘Stagger Lee’, where everything appeared to be turned up to 11.
After the slow burn send off ‘Push the Sky Away’, somewhat akin to the feel of closing credits, there was a constant echo of ‘wow’ as punters drifted out of the venue. Cave and his impeccable band of Bad Seeds couldn’t be back soon enough, but tonight’s show was more than enough to keep us going until their next musical chapter.