Nick Cave | Eventim Apollo | 2 May 2015
“Look at me now!” bellows Nick Cave during ‘Jubilee Street’, somewhat unnecessarily. That’s exactly what everybody in Hammersmith’s sold-out Eventim Apollo has done for the past 90 minutes, seemingly transfixed by the messianic troubadour’s every move.
There’s a reverential silence while he performs ‘The Mercy Seat’ alone on stage, his impassioned vocal of defiance and redemption backed by nothing more than the minor chords he beats out of the grand piano. There’s a thrust of hands clamouring for his chest as he leans in and, as per the lyrics of ‘Higgs Boson Blues’, suggestively asks the diehards congregated at his feet: “Can you feel my heart beat?” Even during a rare outing for the almost-forgotten ‘Black Hair’, there’s hushed singing along from the crowd, awestruck either by the maudlin ballad’s return to the set or Warren Ellis’ plaintive accompaniment on accordion.
With Ellis one of just four musicians in the backing band, a stripped-down version of The Bad Seeds, the intention is clearly to create a more intimate experience. So as the singer spends much of his time at the piano, sometimes joined only by Martyn Casey on bass, there are starkly powerful interpretations of melancholia like ‘Into My Arms’, ‘West Country Girl’, and even Leonard Cohen’s moving ‘Avalanche’.
But with more than half of the Cave oeuvre made up of apocalyptic songs of God and/or lust, there’s also plenty of opportunity for drummer Thomas Wydler to get anarchic and Ellis to conjure otherworldly sounds, while their boss tends his flock. Like some wild-eyed preacher he delivers the fire and brimstone that is ‘Red Right Hand’, the uncomfortable menace of ‘Stranger Than Kindness’, and the thunderous turmoil inhabiting ‘Tupelo’, all the while strengthening his bond with the assembled congregation.
That bond is only reinforced by off-the-cuff remarks throughout, whether he’s responding to shouted compliments – “Oh, I’m very handsome? You’re very handsome too” – or ignoring repeated demands for one particular fan favourite by interrupting a song’s intro to declare playfully: “This isn’t ‘Stagger Lee’.”
Even without that murder ballad, it’s impossible to find fault with a show that’s perfectly summed up in the closing words of the closing song: “And some people say it’s just rock’n roll / Oh, but it gets you right down to your soul.”
Amen to that.