When I told a work colleague that I had never been to a Nick Cave show, the reaction was immediate and in all caps.  “YOU HAVEN’T SEEN HIM LIVE?”  Followed by “Oh Man.  He’s the best.  He really plays to the front of the audience”.

What I didn’t quite understand at that time was how much he played to the front of his audience.  I had always assumed Cave was a stoic performer that put on a quality music and vocal performance but kept audience interaction to a minimum.  A “thank you” here and there, then on to the next song.  Maybe it was his tall, slender and always immaculate appearance that gave me that impression, but I couldn’t have been more off the mark.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds walked out to an anticipation-filled crowd at the Scotiabank Arena Sunday night.  The venue was set up to be more intimate than a typical arena show; the stage was moved forward to the centre-ice line in front of a standing-only floor space, the upper seating decks closed, so there wasn’t a bad sight line in the place.  It was also the last night of the Skeleton Tree tour, so an added electricity was in the air.

Starting off with “Jesus Alone” from 2016’s Skeleton Tree, Cave stepped over the gap between the stage and a surprisingly narrow catwalk, so he could get up close and personal with the front row worshipers.  And as lithe as a cat on a fence, he moved along clutching the hands of adoring fans while he sang and locked eyes.  So, this is what my colleague meant about playing to the front of the audience.

On stage, The Bad Seeds were a marvel to behold as well.  Warren Ellis can pull sounds out of a violin that rival the best heavy metal shredders and does so with a manic fever on stage that immediately switches to an absolute calm while he blows grief out of a flute and makes your eyes well up.  It’s a roller coaster ride in every sense.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds performed a mesmerizing two-and-a-half hour set with too many highlights to reasonably list, but personal stand-outs included “God Is In The House”, “Shoot Me Down”, and the gut-wrenching “Girl In Amber”.  During the quieter moments, I was both shocked and impressed by the respect of silence paid to Cave.  These are dedicated fans here tonight.  No chatter heard in an arena?  Complete attention paid to the man on stage. It’s wonderful.

Opening the night was El Paso’s, Cigarettes After Sex.  Enveloped in dry ice, the three-piece led by Greg Gonzalez, played an ethereal set of dreamy ambient pop songs including “K”, REO Speedwagon cover “Keep On Loving You”, and “Affection”.  Gonzalez’s hypnotic vocals mixed with swirling shoegazey guitars and deep bass chords made for a nice precursor to the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds experience.

Words and photos by Dave MacIntyre

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Cigarettes After Sex