When expectation is high, things can only go one of two ways. And expectation was through the roof (or the wonderfully ornate ceiling) before Nick Cave even set foot on the St James stage on Monday night. When he did, without playing a note or saying a word, he’d already received a standing ovation; a bit premature, surely?
“I hope you’re listening,” implored Cave as the opening notes of We Real Cool wafted across the hushed, already captivated crowd. Two lone figures hugged the front of the stage, and each other, Cave using them as his personal sounding board before they were joined by one more, then many more, rendering the ‘good seats’ the worst ones for those sitting behind. No-one cared much as The Weeping Song and Red Right Hand were rolled out in quick succession, the former stripped bare to just Cave and his piano, the latter a raucous rendition that can be, must be the only way it is played.
Nobody’s Baby Now, Love Letter, God Is In The House and The Ship Song saw a return to the piano, the depth of Cave’s vocals and lyrics on full display, but it was when his band, not the Bad Seeds but all of them Bad Seeds indeed, kicked in on Up Jumped The Devil and From Her To Eternity, things really got serious. The drumming of Thomas Wydler was something to behold, his precision deftly disguising the sheer power he is able to put into the kit. Warren Ellis, Cave’s always present right-hand man, remained seated throughout in contrast to his usual manic stage presence––this was Cave’s show, after all.
Which is a good point; we were here to witness one of the most significant artists of the last 40-odd years, and the crowd were obviously aware and respectful of this. There were no sing-alongs, not too much inappropriate ‘whooping’ during songs, and warm and generous applause after each track. But there’s always one, the fool who wants to be part of the show, or in this case a sad sideshow. We all know the words, but we want to hear Nick sing them, not a tone-deaf drunk; yes, we all are pretty in awe of Mr Cave, but we don’t feel the need to tell him “we love you” after every song, until the performers get to the point that they ask a spotlight to be trained on the offender, hopefully to embarrass him into silence. No such luck. I really felt sorry for this buffoon’s girlfriend, the light shining on her there as he continued to repeat his adulation ad nauseum. I hope he has lots of money, because he had zero else going for him.
Both night's opening sets were pretty similar, the highlights being the Higgs Boson Blues, the aforementioned From Her… and the closer Jubilee Street, a brooding, pulsing throb building to a massive crescendo to leave the masses salivating for the encore set. Monday’s closing bracket probably outshone Tuesday’s for me, with Into My Arms, We No Who U R, then The Lyre Of Orpheus finishing us off in a more rip-roaring manner than Tuesday’s still excellent but more introspective Push The Sky Away: its melancholy refrain wafting through our heads as we trundled into the windy night, sated yet now somehow empty, knowing that there would be no such excitement, anticipation and fulfilment for a third night. We would return to normal, enriched and enthralled by a true master and his henchmen, hoping it wouldn’t be the last time.