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Concert Review by Luca
CONCERT REVIEW by Luca Chichizola
Traffic Free Festival, Venaria Reale, Torino, Italy, July 9th 2009
What is better than a Nick Cave concert? A free Nick Cave concert, of course. It seems that the cultural department of the city council in my hometown of Torino has good taste in music, according to the artists which have been invited to the Traffic Festival since its first edition in 2004: Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Shane MacGowan, Aphex Twin, New Order, Franz Ferdinand, Gogol Bordello, Manu Chao, Lou Reed, Daft Punk, Arctic Monkeys, Patti Smith, The Sex Pistols and many others. Nick Cave
This year, the main attractions were our beloved Australian bluesman/rocker with his very talented band, and electronic-music wizards Underworld. Nice thing about this festival is that, as I said, it’s completely free and it involves other cultural events, too: for example, since Nick Cave was in town, the Museum of Cinema also dedicated a retrospective to his works as writer, screenwriter and film music composer. I personally didn’t see the exposition, but I have had positive reports.
Anyway, I was very curious to see the Bad Seeds live after enjoying a couple of their concerts on DVD. Not so much because of the slightly modified lineup (Mick Harvey left the band and was replaced by Ed Kuepper), but because I had read that their experiences with their latest album and especially the Grinderman side-project seemed to have brought a new fresh approach to the live performances, too.
Nick Cave
This year the music events of the Traffic Festival took place not in a park in Torino, but at the “Italian Versailles”, the recently restored Reggia di Venaria. A magnificent setting, just half an hour from the center of Torino. And again, I must express my congratulations to the organization, because it was impeccable: easy to reach, easy to find parking, and with a sufficiently large open-space area dedicated to the event without risk of damage to the beautiful gardens of the royal estate. Acoustics were decent, and the volume was good and loud (at times even a bit too loud, at least judging from the slight buzz I’m having in my left ear today). OK, maybe the support bands could have been better, since they ranged from the moderate dullness of the three never-heard-before local bands which occupied the stage during the first hour, to the downright annoying performance of St. Vincent (one of those boring “alternative” bands which cover their lack of personality and charisma with tiresome outbursts of grating noise): judging from the general lack of interest, it was rather obvious whom most of the audience had actually come to hear… Well, maybe that should have been obvious from the start, judging how many people around me were wearing Nick Cave or even Einstürzende Neubauten T-shirts: sure, there were also some young people who clearly looked like they had never heard of Nick and had come to the Festival just to have some beers and spend a night out, but they definitely were the minority.
So my wife Silvia and I patiently waited for the supporting acts to finish their show, and at around 22:30 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds finally arrived on stage. Usual black dress with white pointed collar shirt for Nick (luckily without the cheesy moustache that he had been sporting recently), and similar sober attires for the rest of the band… except for the usual weirdo hair and beard sported by Warren Ellis, who as time goes by looks more and more like a bum picked up from the street (but boy, how great a musician he is!).
It is immediately evident, from the first songs in the setlist (“Papa won’t leave you Henry”, “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!”, “Red right hand”, and a thundering “Tupelo”) that, as predicted, the Bad Seeds have received a new injection of vitality, power and raw grittiness from the Grinderman experience. Mr. Cave seems to have discovered that strumming on the electric guitar is more enjoyable than sitting at the piano, and while he isn’t the most technically proficient or refined player of a six-strings that I have heard in my life, he certainly compensates that with energy, passion and sheer wildness. The setlist of the gig favoured the rockier and grittier songs from the extensive catalogue of the band, and even the few ones that in the albums used to be quieter, subtler or with more complex arrangements, were often played in radically different versions: stripped to the core, tight, fast, grinding, absolutely mean and hard-rocking. It looked like the Bad Seeds were on a wild spree, and the sheer power of some songs was breathtaking: perhaps too much for the ears of some in the audience, as every time the band unleashed one of their ferocious and sudden outbursts of feedback-distorted aural assault at least a dozen of older folks went away with perplexed faces…
Nick Cave
For those like me who already knew what to expect, it certainly wasn’t a problem… on the contrary, it was rather fun, very energetic. So, the show went on with classics like “Henry Lee” (very wonderful), a blasting “There she goes my beautiful world”, and two oldies which are always great fun like “Deanna” and “The mercy seat”. “Nature boy” was another fine moment, although in a rockier and stripped-down version compared to the richer one played during the Abattoir Blues Tour (they had backing female gospel singers there…), while “The ship song” provided a slightly quieter break. The quieter moment of the concert, anyway, was the sparse and touching “Love letter”, and this was the only song played by Nick at the piano: I would have hoped for more, but as I said before… if he’s happier to play the guitar and occasionally bash some keys on the electric organ, there’s nothing wrong with me; if I want to hear some more of the “crooner” Nick, I’ll simply pick up one of his older live recordings, or one of his late ‘90s albums…
Other fine moments of the show, again of the “raw&rockier” kind, were a version of “We call upon the author” which, in its sheer aggressiveness, could put some of Nick’s Birthday Party stuff to shame, a fine performance of “Midnight man”, and the usually lovely “The weeping song”. The only bit that left me a bit puzzled was “Stagger Lee”, which (apart from the final outburst of noise) was a bit less rhythmically irresistible that the original recording. Probably this partly has to do with Nick’s style of live singing, which often could be considered more of a “freeflow narration”: but if you know him, you also know that if you want the best vocal performances you have to go for the studio albums because he has quite a habit of using a different, more laid-back delivery on live shows.
The concert ended with a very rocky performance of “Get ready for love”, and a very good one of “Moonland” - one of my favorite tracks from their latest album - which was dedicated to that “big fucking yellow disc up there”.
Overall it was a very nice show. I appreciate it when artists try to offer a live experience which differs from what can be heard in the studio albums, otherwise what would be the purpose of going to see a live performance when one can hear exactly the same stuff at home with better quality?
And from this point of view, the show was very satisfactory: again, it’s hard to describe with words how loud, aggressive, energetic and raw the Bad Seeds can be on stage. Kudos in particular to Jim Sclavunos for the explosive drumming, and to Warren Ellis for his absolutely weirdo behavior on stage: whether he’s standing with his back to the audience, or rolling on the floor like possessed by a demon, or making strident noises with his violin, he almost constantly steals the show from Nick. And coming to Nick, well, he was his usual self: quite relaxed and at ease, and even smiling a lot, but always capable of sudden bursts of quirkiness and his trademark jerky “rock postures” and jumps. And, miracle of miracles, he only smoked ONE cigarette in more than one hour and a half!
Personally I was worried that Silvia would kill me for bringing her to this gig, since she only had explored the softer side of Nick Cave so far (albums like “The boatman’s call”, “No more shall we part” and “Nocturama”), but she enjoyed the concert very much, even the louder and grittier moments of it! And this was no small achievement at all: another testament to the great personality and captivating power of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. - Luca Chichizola

Listen: Nick Cave on MySpace
You may also read or re-read Nick's excellent reviews of Nick Cave gigs here, here, here or there. Yes Nick Cave rules on Whiskyfun.

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