When our rock stars hit 60 it’s usually time for retrospectives, best-ofs and classic album tours, but Nick Cave is an artist who’s continually raging against the dying of the light.
Cave turned 60 last year in the middle of touring Skeleton Tree – his 16th album and one that’s opened up the world’s big arena venues for the first time in his near-40-year career.
Very few acts past 60 in popular music continue to hit their early career high-points, with Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Michael Gira of Swans notable exceptions – mercifully David Bowie came through with Blackstar at the last minute.
But Skeleton Tree and its predecessor Push the Sky Away have signalled a new era in Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds – maybe the most formidable backing band in leftfield rock’n’roll history.
For decades Cave has felt like a cult artist, with as almost as many facets as David Bowie, and an eternal series of contradictions and best bits. He was a confrontational haggard junkie fronting The Birthday Party and a sex-starved wretch singing No Pussy Blues with Grinderman. He’s written dense gothic novels and smutty comedies about a depraved door-to-door salesman, and a fire and brimstone preacherman when he gets started live. He’s duetted with Shane MacGowan, Johnny Cash, Debbie Harry and Kylie Minogue, and has written widescreen western masterpieces like The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James.
But his day job will always be big chief Bad Seed, leading the Aussie renegades through dozens of vicious murder ballads, feral garage rock, gospel, literary introspection and transcendent catharsis.
This current tour is his first since the tragic death of his teen son Arthur, who died falling off a cliff in Cave’s adopted hometown of Brighton.
In the powerful 2016 Documentary One More Time With Feeling, Cave frankly discusses the grieving process with his wife Susie and Bad Seeds band leader, the legendary fiddle player Warren Ellis, who’s behind the impressionistic electronic loop direction of the last two albums.
Cave said one thing that’s emphatically emerged is the connection to his audience, and recalls weeping in the arms of a fan who’d offered him condolences in a supermarket.
This rebirth of sorts has translated into the live show. Where once Cave was confrontational, pointing at the front row with spit flying, he says he’s turned it into a communal offering. And even if the arenas are getting bigger, he’s counteracting that by inviting people on stage – he had dozens swarming around for the curtain closer Stagger Lee when I went to see him in Glasgow’s Hydro last year.
This communal reach will extend to the Abbey Theatre the night before the gig, with a special Conversation With Nick Cave Q&A event.
“The audience tends to ask more challenging, revealing, playful and ultimately serious questions,” Cave says of his reasons for the show.
“There has been a connection to the audience through the recent live shows where we all have shown a kind of willingness to open up. I can always play some songs at the piano if it all goes horribly wrong. But, I don’t know, I’ve got a good feeling about this one.”