Gig review: Halloween tricks and treats with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Nick Cave
Nick Cave

There’s never a bad time to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but Halloween seems particularly apt given the towering Australian’s love of the gothic and goulish. “Every evening is Halloween to me”, he jokes during an epic career-spanning two hour set at Glasgow’s Barrowlands.

It’s a show full of dark highlights. Half way through Jubilee Street - the centrepiece of latest album ‘Push The Sky Away’ - Cave slams his microphone to the ground and stalks the front row while sidekick Warren Ellis hurls the first of many broken violin bows across the stage. The rest of the Bad Seeds howl in unison as the crowd go wild. It’s only the second song and already it feels like the most triumphant of encores.

Fan favourites ‘Tupelo’ and ‘Red Right Hand’ follow, providing a raucous counterbalance to some of the more delicate new songs. It’s remarkable how the material fits together almost seemlessly, reinforcing the widely-held belief that his new album is his best in years. High praise for an artist who seems incapable of releasing a bad record.

Cave has a rare talent for making every concert seem like a one-off. His performance is so full-on it’s hard to believe that he can deliver it on two successive nights, never mind throughout a month-long tour.

Every song is a mini-drama which the singer fully immerses himself in, regularly serenading individual members of the audience with his tales of love, death, gods and mermaids. At times he seems more preacher than rock star - returning to his worshippers time and time again, holding hands and basking in the adulation. His jerky dancing and thrusting hips would seem ridiculous from any other 50-something.

The zenith of the evening is a breathtaking combination punch of ‘The Mercy Seat’ and ‘Stagger Lee’. The latter is the only offering from his album of murder ballads which introduced him to a wider audience courtesy of duets with Kylie Minogue and PJ Harvey (who is the subject of ‘West Country Girl’ - also included tonight). It’s a masterpiece of storytelling and a showcase for Cave’s remarkable voice, which is capable of amazing vocal gymnastics, from tender murmur to blood-curdling scream.

Meanwhile, his band are content to keep largely to the shadows, delivering flawless musicianship. The exception is the devilish Ellis who demands attention stage left, alternating between flute and violin and providing the perfect foil for his frontman.

The half hour encore resolutely refuses to stick to the rules; a crowdpleasing rendition of rocker ‘Deanna’ seems to be the obvious closer but is followed by a new song called ‘Give Us a Kiss’. It’s a fragile and intense ballad which ends the evening on a note as strange and hypnotic as Cave himself.