Sydney Festival: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Alexander McPherson
22nd Jan 2017

As I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity. I collected some of their Proverbs, (to) show the nature of Infernal wisdom better than any description of building or garments.”

-- William Blake  “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

The mystique of a man that towers over the stage like a scarecrow, he casts a ten-foot shadow. Leaning forward he gives himself to the masses, and in waves they return, as if they had finally found a voice through which their pain and hardship could be heard. You see there is something to be made of this suffering called Earth.

The fact that I saw Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds on Inauguration day did not slip my mind, and as fear and rage become incessant, Cave’s prophetic vision brings forth another means of progression. The artistic opportunity, the juiciness of such a bewildering existence is seen so clearly in the apocalyptic world of "Higgs Bosom Blues." At the crossroads Robert Johnson takes Lucifer’s challenge.

Art is that which will never find a bottomless hole in torment. Music is that which will never cease to provide reprieve for the hearts and minds of the maddened. Nick Cave is still feeding on the fires of this hellish existence and allowing his heart to fall into the chasm over and again. I don’t feel he’s sold his soul to the devil, but he surely is brave, and has for so many years remained unmoved from the precipice.

After his father’s death at a young age Cave’s vision came forward, out of grief and sadness he found his voice, but in my mind also his means of service. A man who has an unshakable heart, that can suck on the veins of any rotten and seemingly God forsaken situation will use art for precisely its purpose, to transcend the evil, to unite Heaven and Hell, to see light entwine the darkness.

He’s always “reserve(d) the right to believe in the possibility of a god”. Some might find that hard amongst the chaos, yet when we consider that without it he, and other “true” artists would not have such a palate to play with, perhaps it’s a blessing not a curse. No other time in history has provided such fertile soil for the music of the damned. We can be sure that if reality becomes any more twisted Nick Cave’s works will rise ever more emphatically.

The ebb and flow of last night's “show” was something to behold. To be taken out into the cosmos on the back of Warren Ellis’s ear piercing, child screaming madness, and a moment later find yourself in the lap of a lone Nick Cave sitting at the piano, was breathtaking. I found a new beauty in the classic, “Into My Arms”, a love resounding so strong that it questions man's beliefs, a force so encompassing that no dogma could ever get in the way of it.

Many awaited the release of Cave’s new album, expecting it to be the best yet after personal tragedy struck with the passing of his child last year. Undoubtedly it has been a challenging time, and truly a test of that which I have spoken; can the love of creation sing out from the depths of sorrow?  The addition of Skeleton Tree to last night’s performance brought a more solemn tone than has ever been heard from the Bad Seeds before, eerily beautiful and lyrically majestic, Cave himself even had to admit “it’s all too depressing."

In “Jesus Alone” he calls out to those who have not yet identified themselves. You can’t help but feel the tribulations that Jesus faced, standing firm, with eyes open to man grovelling in the darkness. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Luke 5:32).

As we "Push the Sky Away”only to find ourselves in the midst of creation, will we know it as our God given passage. Perhaps you won't find reprieve in circumstance, or comfort in sorrow, but if you're willing to peek down the barrel of the tornado, you might just pluck out some "killer grooves" on the way, and if not, well, thanks be to God for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

For deeper insight be sure to see the documentary One More Time With Feeling. It is being shown at a small selection of theatres. Head to Nick Cave's website for more details.

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