Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

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author MIN date 20/10/17 venue Royal Arena, Copenhagen, DEN

I’d be lying if I told you that watching Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live at Royal Arena wasn’t my most anticipated concert of 2017. The band’s latest album, ”Skeleton Tree”, was a highly melancholic masterpiece that occurred only a year after the death of Nick Cave’s son; an album soaked in emotions and ambience, which saw Cave paint blood upon walls like ink on paper. But as spectacular a release as “Skeleton Tree” is, the somber outing also begs the question: will these songs work in a live setting?

The next few hours will surely tell, but first let’s focus on the setting: Royal Arena, Copenhagen’s new 16.000-capacity venue, was sold out in less than an hour, and the differing ages tonight tells me that Cave is at the height of his popularity despite the musician’s age of 60. Now, you’d think such a big venue would be professional, but in reality we’re treated to waiting in line in the pouring rain because of some scanner difficulties by the entrance, and after the show everyone’s ushered out in less than five minutes, leaving us to be cramped between each other by the stairs while trying to get through bathroom lines and wardrobe lockers. Keep the bars open for 30 minutes and let some of us hang out while those in a hurry scurry out, won’t you?

All photos courtesy of Stefan Frank Thor Straten

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

As a pretty bold move, Cave and his gang quickly set out to answer my initial question by opening the show with a stripped down version of “Anthrocene” off “Skeleton Tree”, completely void of the song’s signature drum-loops. Thankfully, it works beautifully, as do the following “Jesus Alone”, where Cave gets off his stool and reaches out to the audience: ”With my voice, I am calling you”. “Magneto”, too, gets an alteration via a change in piano chords, and just like that Cave has managed to translate an otherwise introvert set of songs into spectacular yet vulnerable live renditions. The soundscape presented tonight is flawless, and everything from the tiniest bell and the strumming acoustic guitar to more abrasive, repetitive melodies flourish.

Yet, there’s no denying that Cave’s manic persona during some of the sets more raucous songs are where he comes into his own, truly. Whether it’s Cave’s change from alluring whispers to infernal bellowing on “Higgs Boson Blues” or the intensified ending of “Jubilee Street”, the frontman’s shifts between madman and smooth-talker is unique, constantly tightening or loosening his grip on the audience in whichever way he sees fit. But let’s not forget Cave’s impressive band, The Bad Seeds: whether we witness Warren Ellis flail his distorted violin around or watch George Vjestica intensely tearing the strings of his guitar, they create the perfect backdrop for Cave’s enthusiastic performance.

There are moments during the show, where I can’t stop myself from thinking that this is one of the best concerts I’ve seen all year: Else Torp’s guest performance during “Distant Sky” is breathtaking, the forceful repetitiveness of “The Mercy Seat” is menacingly powerful, and the collective sing-along during “Into My Arms” has the entire arena along for the ride. However, too many hiccups along the road drag the overall impression of the show down. Although the second half of “The Ship Song” – during the part where the entire band contributes, working as one huge male choir – sounds beautiful, the music during the first half feels a little rushed and bloated compared to Cave’s vocal performance. Furthermore – and most gravely – the title-track off “Skeleton Tree” and “I Need You” off the same album just don’t manage to impress the way they do on record. I can’t feel the desperation and despair that made them some of the best songs of 2016, and the intimate universe usually created ultimately feels hollow instead of empty.

Once the band’s left the stage, a standing ovation throughout the venue roars the gang back in after just a few minutes. Thankfully, a loud and tight extended performance of “The Weeping Song” steers the set back onto the right path. The Bad Seeds yell with full force as Nick Cave ventures out into the audience, adding an extra dimension to the night. As he returns to the stage during the introduction to the murderous “Stagger Lee”, he takes some 100 people with him and makes Royal Arena look like a Frank Carter festival set (but with better songs). Whether you enjoy the gimmick or not, it’s hard not to feel just a little emotional when a young man gets into a comical stand-off with Cave, resulting in a hug that feels joyful yet unbelievably sad, the demise of Cave’s son taken into consideration. When the set ends with the haunting “Push the Sky Away”, it’s hard to imagine a better way to finish off this 140-minute marathon. Although not the most intimidating evening in the company of the Caveman, tonight still feels spectacular in its own way. Please don’t ever change.



  • 1. Anthrocene
  • 2. Jesus Alone
  • 3. Magneto
  • 4. Higgs Boson Blues
  • 5. From Her To Eternity
  • 6. Tupelo
  • 7. Jubilee Street
  • 8. The Ship Song
  • 9. Into My Arms
  • 10. Girl In Amber
  • 11. I Need You
  • 12. Red Right Hand
  • 13. The Mercy Seat
  • 14. Distant Sky (featuring Else Torp on vocals)
  • 15. Skeleton Tree

- Encore

  • 16. The Weeping Song
  • 17. Stagger Lee
  • 18. Push the Sky Away

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