As Nick Cave make the bold step up to an arena tour, Banjo traces his journey so far.
Nick Cave and I have history.
We go back many years and have, in many ways, grown up together. We’ve never met of course, apart from a brief chat and a handshake at a book signing, but he has been there from me from my time as a young lad, unsure of myself and what my future might entail, right through to the current day as a supposedly grown up man with a grown up man’s responsibilities. And in turn, I have seen him grow from a dangerous, out of control young man in The Birthday Party, to a stately renaissance man, respectable and successful.
Of the two, Cave’s change is the most surprising. Few who witnessed the unpredictable riot that was The Birthday Party live would have pointed a finger at their lead singer, all rat’s tail hair and a contemptuous aggression and picked him out for a long successful career, taking in novels, Hollywood film scripts and a run of thoughtful, considered and gentle albums. In fact, back then the odds on him surviving to (almost) his 60s would have been long, to say the least.
My own first sight of Cave was when The Birthday Party played Liverpool Warehouse. The Birthday Party in a live environment were that rarest of creatures, a band where it was truly impossible to predict what would happen during each gig they played. You might get a show where bassist Tracey Pew punches someone out for pissing down his leg, or where Nick Cave beats somebody on the head with his mike stand for looking at him adoringly, hell you might even get a normal show. When The Birthday Party came to their unavoidable end, Cave started down a journey that few would have predicted would end in anything other than the disaster that preceded him.
And yet here we are. With a staggering back catalogue of 29 albums to his name (including lives and compilations), Nick Cave is now an institution. And more than that, he is about to play his first UK tour consisting entirely of arenas.
Now I’m not a fan of arena gigs. So much is lost in gigs of this size, particularly for someone like Cave who interacts so closely with his audience, that I usually refuse to attend the soulless caverns in which they take place. Arenas such as that in Manchester seem more suited to conferences than concerts, exhibitions more than exhibitionists, and it is difficult to feel like you are at a rock gig in such places.
I recently broke this rule to see The Cure at Manchester Arena and essentially spent the evening watching video screens. Don’t get me wrong, The Cure turned in a great gig, but this was a far from ideal place to hold it. Sat right at the back watching telly is not how gigs are supposed to be. And now, after years of watching Nick Cave play smaller venues, he seems to have made the step up to the country’s arenas, and it is hard to see this as anything but a loss.
Quite what has prompted this step up to megagigs is not immediately apparent. He has not had a huge hit single, his last album sold well, but not noticeably better than its predecessors. Maybe he has worked is way up to these heights by sheer longevity, maybe his fan base is steadily growing and has got to the stage where his more usual North West venue, the Manchester Apollo, is now not big enough to cope with demand.
In truth though, Cave is used to playing bigger gigs, as he and the Bad Seeds have been a fixture on the festival circuit for many years. Few who have seen the clip of him at Glastonbury singing to a girl in the crowd, dressed in pure white, will forget the intensity of that performance. No mean feat for someone playing the Pyramid Stage to a huge crowd.
Maybe this is elitist sour grapes on my part, maybe I’m just cheesed off because another one of my heroes has gone to the masses. But if anyone can win out in an arena gig, I’m betting Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds will be the ones to do it.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds play Manchester Arena on September 25.
- Photo from artists Facebook page