So, Nick Cave had returned to Iceland. Again. As I entered the stadium and saw the assembly of VIPs, celebrities, socialites and one head of state for good measure, gathered for the show, I wondered if – were it not for a certain theatre group in town – the attendance have could been sliced in half. But I digress. I am actually glad Cave has become the celebrity attraction he now is. A singular talent like his deserves all the attention and accolades that are lavished upon it, even if a large portion of the audience could not have picked him out of a line-up ten years ago.
It had been ages since I had attended an assigned-seating-only concert, and the different vibe put me off at first. By all standards, Nick Cave’s concert was not a concert at all, but an Event. Surprisingly, despite the great attention paid to the production, the show still got off on the wrong foot, as technical problems delayed its commencement. When there is no opening act, and the production level is such as it was on that particular night, a half-assed soundcheck is hard to overlook.
After a few minutes, the problem was fixed and the man of the hour entered stage left to a thundering applause, joined by members of the Bad Seeds, among them the legendary Warren Ellis of the Australian folk rockers, The Dirty Three. After a tour de force opening, Cave had an announcement: “If you want us to do something special, just call it out, and we will try to accommodate you.” One person had the nerve to shout out –Henry Lee! only to have his wish instantly shot down by Cave. “We could do that. But we won’t.” Instead, he treated his audience to a very inspired version of Red Right Hand, followed by the Ship Song and Wonderful Life. His next song he dedicated to his wife, “It’s her birthday. It’s called You Turn Me On – wherever you are… chained to the kitchen sink.” After a little laughter Cave confessed, “I can’t believe I just said that.”
The shout-outs between songs grew steadily over the course of the show and, for the most part, were met with Cave’s diplomatic response of “we could do that.” Finally, after his eighth number, a powerful rearrangement of the rather mellow Weeping Song, he caved (pun intended) and replied: “Look, we have a fucking set list anyway, I asked you to do this to fill the pregnant pauses while we rebuild the drum kit.”
Eventually relenting, Cave delivered a rearranged, rock version of the murder ballad, Henry Lee. The group then launched into Tupelo and The Mercy Seat, after which they bid their attending fans goodnight after a 15 song set. Following a few minutes of furious stomping and clapping, the band returned for a five-song encore, including The Boatman’s Call, and finally, the song that a large portion of the audience seemed to be waiting for, a re-arranged nice n’ slow version of the rocker, Stagger Lee. This slower arrangement, dominated primarily by Cave on the piano, allowed for a delivery of the lyrics. As he delivered perfectly enunciated vocal lines like: “Well those were the last words that the barkeep said, ‘cause Stag put four holes in his motherfucking head,” and “I’m a bad motherfucker. Don’t you know? And I’ll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get one fat boy’s asshole,” I though: ‘I wonder if the President is fond of songs like this one.’
After executing the five encore songs and again departing from the stage, the band entered for the third time to oblige the crowd of one last number. Many of those attending had already left by then, satisfied with a great show.
Having followed Cave’s career since I first heard Henry’s Dream in 1992, I was happy to finally have the opportunity to see him on stage, as I had missed his previous shows in Iceland. His performance did not disappoint. My only concern was, having heard numerous interesting re-arrangements of old classics that night, fear of never hearing them again… Unless there is a bootleg out there somewhere. If this is the case, I urge whoever is in possession of it to let me know.