A tall lean man moved to the centre of the stage, moving and weaving fluidly to the music of the band behind him. It was the opening song, but this was no crashing of electric guitars or stirring call to arms. Instead, a dark, pulsing medative piece called Anthrocene. “All the things we love, we love, we love, we lose,” he sings.
This was my introduction to the music and the mind of Nick Cave, who with his long serving band The Bad Seeds, invited us to peer into his world, at Auckland’s Vector Arena this week.
I’d heard of Nick Cave for many years but never seen him live or listened to his music. I now know I was missing out.
Cave’s songs are soulful and cerebral. They are poems on life and death, heaven and hell, love and loss, delivered in swirling, dramatic dark musical tones, with only occasional glimmers of light. Nick Cave sings them with a hard honed honesty, which in songs like Red Right Hand, and The Mercy Seat, are given a searing political edge. But cynicism is kept at bay. Other offerings, like I Need You, or Into My Arms, are softer and heartfelt.
I listened to a couple of albums before the concert: his latest album, Skeleton Tree (recorded after the death of his son in 2015), and a 2013 live performance at California radio station KCRW. As it turns out, he played all bar one of the songs from Skeleton Tree, and over the course of well over two hours and 20 songs, more than half of them were on these two albums.
I was struck by his strong and passionate voice, the voice of someone with something to say and the determination to make sure you hear it clearly. He really did enunciate clearly, and especially if you are new to someone’s music, that means a lot.
And Cave has a singular stage presence. That tall leanness becomes rather willowy as his arms billow in time with his songs. But then he snaps his body as if charged with electricity, to lead his band into a crashing chord.
Cave likes his audience,or at least,he likes to engage with them. He embarked on a couple of quick chats with single audience members here and there, called for a singalong, and asked for requests during the encore. He occasionally sat at the piano, but mostly patrolled the front of stage, and favoured one side of the stage far more than the other, which did make me wonder if the other side felt they’d missed out. (I was seated at the back)
This was not a show for someone looking for a night of light entertainment, but if you want to immerse yourself in the music of someone who is a genuinely insightful and talented wordsmith, who offers honest essays on life, and someone who crafts resonant rather than disposable pop tunes, then Nick Cave, with his superb band The Bad Seeds, is worth your time.