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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Alexandra Palace, London, 25th August 2005 
by Nick Morgan
Having only recently bought myself a television I’ve been surprised that I’ve been watching it quite a lot over the past few weeks as we’re all gripped in the excitement of the Ashes Test Match Series (it’s cricket Serge, when England and Australia pit their greatest athletes against each other for the prize of, errr… a pile of ashes). I mention that for two reasons.
Firstly, as Raymond Chandler demonstrated, a great sporting event can provide both a backdrop for both narrative development and act as a metaphor for the spirit of the age. Secondly, and more to the point, it’s because tonight we’re at Alexandra Palace, the birthplace of television broadcasting in Britain. Built in 1873 ‘Ally Pally’ has gone through numerous fires and financial difficulties, but it now trying to reposition itself as a premier rock venue – with a capacity of 8,000 in it’s Victorian Great Hall a bridge between venues such as Brixton Academy (c. 5000 and fantastic, but also big enough in my view) and Wembley Arena (c. huge and soulless). Well my advice is think again. It’s difficult to get to unless you drive (expect to wait nearly an hour to get out of the car park after the gig). The ‘facilities’ are woefully inadequate. The sound is indifferent. And the Great Hall may have some particular ambience as a result of its restored high-Victorian decoration, but it’s really just a barn, and with no apparent banking on the floor (as you would get at old theatre or cinema venues such as Brixton, Shepherd’s Bush etc.) sight-lines are appalling for almost anyone except those wedged in front of the stage – and even then I suspect you get a crick in your neck as you strain to look up over the on-stage monitors. As you may have guessed I don’t think I’ll be going again.
And then there’s the audience. Well, as we’re here to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds it’s as eclectic a bunch as you might expect. Goths of all ages, sinewy and sinister black shirted hipsters (that’s me), black spectacled and shoulder-bagged Agency and creative types, a smattering of the chattering classes from Hampstead and Camden, and – thanks partly to the location of the venue (and the probability that this is Cave’s only UK gig this year) a huge number of ‘out-of-towners’, who to be frank just don’t seem to know how to behave at gigs.
I guess they’re all used to sitting down at some dreadful place like the Milton Keynes Bowl. Or maybe someone had chalked ‘Push past me again you ignorant prat’ on the back of my designer shirt. Or maybe it was just everyone’s frustration at not being able to see. Or maybe too much beer and too many North London ‘geezers’ who thought they were being ‘a larrf’ – like the two who seemed to spend the whole evening pushing through the crowd carrying the same six plastic glasses of obnoxious fizzy beer. Or maybe I was cross because (apparently) it was me who’d forgotten the camera (oops!). Or maybe it was because just as everyone at last seemed to have got settled into their sardine like position the provincial ones started to leave to catch their trains and buses home. Whatever. It wasn’t good.
And the band? Well, as regular Whiskyfun rocksters may recall, last year these bad-mouthed boys from the colonies got my coveted ‘Gig of the Year’ award for their show at Brixton which was simply sensational. Luckily I hadn’t expected a repeat of that – because we didn’t get it. Despite blasting into ‘Get ready for love’ it took them a good few songs before they really got up to full speed (tired perhaps after a long year on the road around the world), and before the sound-desk got the mix tolerably right.
Not to say that Mr Cave wasn’t giving one hundred per cent from the start. He shouted and spat his lyrics, Kung-fu kicked in Elvis style, cajoled both his band and the audience, gyrated like a dervish, danced like a Spanish waiter (I know – I used that one before, but it’s good) and thanks to the excellent lighting cast a manic shadow on the side walls (lucky for those then who didn’t catch a glimpse of him on stage all night) like Julian Bleach’s spine-chilling narrator in Shockheaded Peter.
And once the band hit full speed they were as impressive as before. By the third song – the awesome ‘Hiding all away’ from Abattoir Blues they had signalled their intentions, and from what followed ‘Supernaturally’, ‘The weeping song’, ‘The mercy seat’, ‘There she goes’ , ‘Lyre of Orpheus’ and ‘Abattoir blues’ all demonstrated their uncanny talent to mix the delicate and sensitive with power and aggression bar none.
But the set was shorter than Brixton, where they cracked through almost all of Abattoir Blues/The lyre of Orpheus before returning for an extensive encore from Cave’s back catalogue. Here there were fewer songs, greater gaps between them (partly as feedback problems were being addressed) and a shorter encore.
But for all of this by the time they finished with ‘Stagger Lee’ these mean motherfuckers from the Antipodes had again shown that, like Cave’s much vaunted lyrics, they can straddle the profound to the profane with the ease of giants. And for all my carping about the venue and the crowd we’d had a good time, and I shouldn’t forget that the tickets were a birthday present. Thanks Amy! However I was left wondering, particularly after I listened again to last year’s simply brilliant Cave and the Bad Seeds album, “what next?” It’s hard to see where they can go without simply recycling the same musical ideas. But then maybe that’s for them to surprise us all in the future. In the meantime here’s an idea that would grasp the imagination of gigsters across the world. An on-stage smoke-out between Cave and the Bad Seeds, and the Alabama 3. Who would win this nicotine drenched duel? Who is brave enough to take up the challenge? Another major sporting event that could act as a metaphor for an almost lost world … - Nick Morgan (concert photos by Nick's Nokia)

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