Astonishing. If you were looking for just one word to describe the experience of seeing and hearing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds perform here tonight then this would probably be it. There again it could just as easily be exultant, euphoric or extraordinary. It could be a thousand words, in fact, but somehow they just wouldn’t be nearly enough to capture how incredibly uplifting and inspirational this performance is. With Nick Cave you soon learn that no language is ever enough.
Taking to the stage of this austere, soulless, concrete building – constructed in the late 1950s to accommodate the Rome 1960 Summer Olympics’ basketball tournaments – over the next two and half hours Nick Cave transforms the venue into a vibrant mass of warmth and humanity. In his customary sharp pin-stripe suit, open-necked shirt slashed almost down to the navel, shock of black hair darker than a raven’s wing and arms aloft and outstretched to his adoring faithful, the boundaries between art and artist become even more indistinct. But for all that Cave is a fantastic illusion, an incredible hybrid of Reservoir Dogs’ gangster, demented preacher (a chilling Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter if you will) and phantasmagoric Messiah, he still remains the absolute Jesus of cool.
Despite several personnel changes in their 34 year history – longtime keyboard player Conway Savage is sadly missing from this tour following brain surgery – the Bad Seeds are still the last remaining gang in town. And whilst they and Cave are entirely inter-dependent within the context of their shared existence, this performance is all about Nick Cave. Following the six Bad Seeds onto the PalaLottomatica stage he immediately takes control of the auditorium, stalking the boards and its outer perimeters like a man possessed, and his seismic grip on the occasion does not loosen thereafter not for one single solitary moment.
The set proper is perfectly weighted, bookended by songs from the band’s last album, Skeleton Tree, a record largely written and recorded following the death of Nick Cave’s 15 year old son, Arthur. That this intimate, monumental, often harrowing examination of personal grief can be so readily translated into surroundings that are much more suited to popular sports events and rock stadia excess is fitting testament to both Cave’s bravery as an artist and his innate skill as a performer. The emotional desolation of Skeleton Tree is felt at its most acute during Girl In Amber, played out in front of a huge projected backdrop of a silhouetted lone female figure (presumably Nick Cave’s wife, Susie Bick) walking slowly across the vast emptiness of Brighton beach with the burnt-out shell of the Cave’s hometown West Pier in the distance.
Between these remarkable staging posts, Nick Cave revisits earlier material imbuing it with an even greater power, fury, persuasion and emotional heft. ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ becomes a transcendental paean to metaphysics as Cave takes us all on a mesmeric drive down to Geneva. ‘Tupelo’ and ‘The Mercy Seat’ are invested with such devastating menace that their inherent fire and brimstone can barely be contained. And then amidst such incredible intensity ‘Ship Song’ and ‘Into My Arms’, with Cave seated at the piano, provide a beautiful oasis of deceptive calm and reflection.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds return for a three song encore, the first of which, ‘The Weeping Song’, sees Cave standing knee-deep in the crowd orchestrating a resonant mass train-clap audience accompaniment. For ‘Stagger Lee’, he then welcomes hundreds of them onto the stage as he mutates into the devil with some imaginary pitchfork. “Boom, boom, boom”, he whispers, killing us all with his songs. And with a triumphal, valedictory ‘Push The Sky Away’ an indestructible Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds finally call breathless time in the Eternal City on what is most surely one of the greatest shows of all time.
Photo Credit: Simon Godley
A few more photos from this show can be found HERE