Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album launch party for Push the Sky Away: a few thoughts…
Published on March 8th, 2013 | Nick Cole-Hamilton
The new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album Push the Sky Away was officially launched with an LA show that was streamed live and remained online for 24 hours following the event. This was a good chance to check out how the they were shaping up for the album tour, which I’ll personally be attending two dates of. The gig saw the band play the entirety of Push the Sky Away, followed by choice cuts from their extensive back catalogue.
Here I consider a number of things:
First and foremost, it is almost never a good idea to have a children’s choir involved in a rock gig. Though it worked rather well in places, especially on the tracks from the new album, it did give the whole thing an air of Cliff Richard performing the Lord’s Prayer at New Year. This was most evident during the performance of the “Ship Song”, a classic Bad Seeds ballad, which here found me – even though I thought I was over this sort of thing – doused in petrol and fumbling for a match.
Of course, with every band that lasts the test of time, there has to be concessions. After a while of living a road-weary life of drugs and debauchery, you are faced with a choice, calm the fires or die and hope for legend status. I am eternally grateful that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds tempered their vices, and in doing so they ushered in some of their most moving material to date (No More Shall We Part was conceived during Cave’s lengthy road to recovery from heroin addiction), however there is always a part every die hard Nick Cave fan that wishes that The Birthday Party were still retching bile and starting fights.
This is probably the reason why some chump in the crowd at the launch show (and other chumps frequently at other shows) thought it was a good idea to repeatedly request “Release the Bats”, a particularly fine piece of early vitriol from The Birthday Party. Cave handled this heckling with aplomb, stating: “It’s beautiful that you know that song, but we’re not going to play it.” However, I couldn’t help but note that the strange dichotomy conjured between Nick acknowledging the children’s choir behind him with a fond “aww”, while said chump reminded us all of the addled and strung out youth that Cave once was.
Anyway, aside from this, and all things considered, the gig was rather good. The new album went down well and with additional Vampyra-esque backing vocalists and a string section (which Warren conducted during “From Her to Eternity” in the manner of Rasputin on a speedball), that made the whole thing very lushly realised indeed.
My one problem with the performance of the album was Warren’s loops. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Warren, and his loops rock – however, when I watched this gig I had a similar experience to when I saw Grinderman perform in Glasgow on the tour of their second album. When they declared that the next track would be “Heathen Child” the crowd went bananas, and I too very appropriately lost my shit. I was expecting to see Warren tear the feral opening riff from his custom-built Mandocaster, but what I saw instead was him activating a foot switch, and that was that.
The same was true of the gig in LA. Almost every track from their new album had a beautifully crafted backing loop which really lent depth to the given track (indeed, Cave recently stated that he had long since exhausted his source of song-writing material on the piano, and it was Warren’s loops which now formed the basis of his song-writing process), but they were all just queued up and activated by foot switch. I know I’m asking the impossible to want each loop constructed there and then, but dammit, I want the impossible!
Anyway, moving on from my ridiculous and impossible demands, the band then went on to play assorted hits from their catalogue. Highlights included “From Her to Eternity”, delivered with much bile and fervour (however sadly, for many years lacking Blixa Bargeld’s visceral guitar playing), “Love Letter” (one of my favorite tracks from my favorite albums of all time, No More Shall We Part), prior to which Cave dismissed his vampiric backing vocalists, perhaps in a nod to the sadly deceased Kate McGarrigle, who with her sister provided backing vocals on the album take, and “Stagger Lee”, which once again made me miss Blixa Bargeld, especially when they tried to recreate with synth noise, his unrecreatable scream from the original track. “Jack the Ripper” also seemed to have lost its brutal edge since the departure of Mick Harvey, however old-time Cave classic “The Mercy Seat” was pretty damn sweet (as always), as was “Red Right Hand”.
Other impressions: Conway Savage looks OLD. Man, I mean like American Civil War old. Jeez, someone get that guy a blanket and some slippers. Jim Sclavunos and Martin P. Casey looked as unimpressed as ever (Jim especially so on the album tracks where he provides little more than a shaker or a bit of ride cymbal action), and I don’t know who the hell the other two guys were on stage, but they sure weren’t Blixa or Mick.
Okay, I’m being a prick about this, the two new members of the Bad Seeds really jelled with the rest of the group, and I know Blixa has been gone for years – but really, if Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were still Cave, Harvey, Bargeld and Ellis (as they did during No More Shall We Part – did I mention I love that album?) alongside Savage, Wydler, Casey and Sclavunos, then I would be one happy, un-charred monkey. Either that or they’d bring out Nocturama 2 and I’d take the whole world with me.