Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds review, All Points East: An artist who makes sense live, and who makes sense of life

·3-min read
Nick Cave performing at All Points East festival in London (Ash Knotek/Shutterstock)
Nick Cave performing at All Points East festival in London (Ash Knotek/Shutterstock)

Has the theme tune for this year’s Conservative Party conference been picked yet? Because it’s hard to see how they could do better than our original doomsday prophet: the moon-faced grinch Nick Cave and his discordant orchestra of deliverance.

This is the age of the dog-house-fire meme, after all. There’s a cost of living crisis, an energy crisis, a political crisis, and a total lack of urgency from our chillaxing, trainer-wearing leaders. And nobody finds comfort in chaos quite like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. At his best, Cave’s back catalogue is a cosmic blend of the funereal and the enraptured – both elegy and ecstasy. For this two-hour performance at All Points East festival in east London’s Victoria Park, Cave has brought along the gospel choir that now accompanies so many of his live performances.

He kicks the air to start a set of back-to-back bangers. First up it’s “Get Ready For Love”, the huge opener from Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, with an opening salvo of chords that writhe and thrash around. In his trademark unbuttoned suit and pallbearer pallor, Cave appears unchanged these last 20 years. He’s always a brilliant showman; this evening he actually tumbles into the sea of outstretched arms during a rendition of “There She Goes, My Beautiful World”. As he pulls back, mopping the sweat from his brow, an outstretched arm offers him a can. “What is it?” asks Cave, peering into the sea of arms. “No. A f***ing energy drink? No!”

This is a show where Cave draws on his own, seemingly endless reserves of energy. He follows the piano-bashing of “From Her To Eternity” with the elegiac “O Children”. Later, he takes a seat at the piano for the ethereal ballad “I Need You” from 2019’s Skeleton Tree, released in the wake of his teenage son Arthur’s death. Cave is well known for his frequently heartfelt and thoughtful writings online, where his journal-like entries and responses to fan queries routinely go viral. But it is unusual to see him crying onstage, and so it is a moving and powerful moment when he visibly wells up during the “just breathe” refrain of “I Need You”.

The tormented “Tupelo” from 1985 album The Firstborn Is Dead has always had a camp-y vibe, but its chugging energy sounds more ominous every year. A fan is pulled from the crowd for what might be considered the band’s only widely recognisable hit, the Peaky Blinders theme “Red Right Hand”, which is played a little slower than usual. Cave drops to his knees and serenades the audience member. The set closer is “White Elephant”: the only song from the most recent Nick Cave and Warren Ellis record, 2021’s Carnage, which sounds enormous live, in part thanks to the gospel choir. Then there is a four-song encore: “Into My Arms”, “Vortex”, “Ghosteen Speaks” and “The Weeping Song”.

Cave makes the most sense live. And in our current moment, thrillingly, he is an artist who makes sense of life too. Nobody’s ever made doomsday feel quite so much fun.