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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds @ Øyafestivalen 2022

Nick Cave is a story teller for whom direct communication is an essential part of his performance. From the first second that he stormed on to the Øyafestivalen stage, to start “Get Ready for Love”, he made his commitment to that kind of connection apparent.

Torsdag 11.august 2022

After a two-year hiatus enforced by the Corona Pandemic, Øyafestivalen returned with its mixture of styles of act, but with the same emphasis on getting really top-flight artists, to create a celebration of music to enrich the bright Summer evenings. 

It can be said that the best story tellers don’t tell their own stories, they tell stories about the truths they discover in their own experience. Nick Cave is that kind of story teller and also one for whom direct communication is an essential part of his performance. From the first second that he stormed on top the stage, to start “Get Ready for Love”, he made his commitment to that kind of connection apparent. It was, all in all, a physical performance, sometimes visceral, sometimes angry, sometimes yearning, sometimes earnest. For the first twenty minutes of the set, he stormed around the stage, marching along the custom walkway, leaning into the crowd, holding their hands, clinging onto them, speaking as if it was directly to them. Sometimes, it was directly to them. Before “From Her to Eternity”, he grabbed hold of a man in the second row and whispered the opening line harshly into his ear “Ah wanna tell ya ’bout a girl…”. Cave kicked, lunged, marched, and gesticulated his way through the early numbers, the force of the music and the emotions behind the songs coursing through him. Things calmed down a little for the piano-driven “O Children”, for which Cave picked out a child among the dense, extensive pack of ildsjeler who could be seen in the middle of the bowl of the audience, and dedicated the song to them. Warren Ellis, who was greeted as warmly as Cave when he came onto the stage had had first solo here, the violin pleading and evocative alongside the bitter, ironic lyrics. The set had, thus far, had something of a “big band” feel – a vocalist backed by an ensemble. The Bad Seeds are quite a formidable outfit, with two drummers/percussionists, one of whom also plays keyboards, another keyboard player in recent recruit Carly Paradis, two guitarists (George Vjestica and multi-instrumentalist Ellis) and three top-flight backing vocalists. With Cave at the piano, the mood shifted slightly, but with “Jubilee Street”, the marching, bellowing, intense Cave gradually came back to the fore, with the song reaching a pounding climax on the piano, and Cave grabbing the twisted mic stand to utter one last scream before hurling it away. “Bright Horses” followed, which marked and change in atmosphere. I’d call it a lull, but it was a change of pace rather than emotional intensity. Cave sat at the piano now, for “I Need You” and “Waiting for You”, with just Ellis and the backing vocalists in support.  The audience were increasingly captive now, and a glance across them showed upturned faces, eyes fixed on the man in the spotlight at the piano, his genuine emotion the currency between them, as he sings “Falling… falling… falling…” and his voice faded to nothing. 

The big ensemble feel returned for the next track, “Tupelo”, not just because the rest of the Bad Seeds returned to the stage, but because the intense musical atmosphere from the early numbers also resumed, with Cave back on his “audience participation” walkway, muttering, gasping, bellowing, clutching the hands of the audience, even leaning into them, letting them take the weight of his performance. He seemed increasingly desperate in his delivery, the emotions ebbing and flowing, and Ellis was also twirling, swinging his violin through the air, letting the instrument ring on and on. Here we saw the first of a motif which Cave worked into his performance, repeats of “cry – cry – cry» or “yeah – yeah – yeah», a nod to the Weeping Song, and a thread which he ran through most of the performance. 

Cave took a moment then, to thank the crowd – “Thank you, Oslo, you beautiful people.” It was time for full-on participation, as it was time for “Red Right Hand”, played slower than the record, with a decided swing-time beat, which picked the audience up. Again, we got “cry – cry – cry….. just breathe – just breathe – just breathe…”. Everyone within shouting distance of the stage joined in on the chorus, and they continued to sing the theme after the song had closed and Cave had to get them to stop with one final, forceful “thank you”. “The Mercy Seat” and “Higgs Boson Blues” came next, delivered with the same intensity. Cave started at the mic, but it wasn’t long before he was down shaking and holding hands again, getting the audience to hold the mic for him to sing into. The lyrics might be opaque, but his expression was one of anguish, and again we heard the refrain “cry – cry – cry… just breath again». The song finished with Cave kneeling in front of Ellis on his guitar. That part of the set was tempered slightly by the sonorous earnest of “The Ship Song”, which had Cave at the piano again. It was a short and beautiful moment, elevated further by the crowd lighting up their empty beer cups with their phones to create lines of beacons across the crowd. 

The end of the set became more upbeat. The backing vocalists came down to the front of the stage, to dance as well as sing, though the pitch of emotion remained the same, reinforced by their powerful vocal lines. The main set concluded with “White Elephant”, which seemed an odd fit with the rest of the set, with its more synth-heavy arrangement and political more than personal lyrics. But here again we got “yeah – yeah – yeah…” and “Boom – boom – boom». Cave thanked the audience again, and his band “the f**king beautiful Seeds”. 

If “The Ship Song” was a charming moment, what following for the first encore was something so much more. Again, alone at the piano, Cave delivered “Into My Arms”, and he had the whole audience in the palm of his hand, all the way to the back of the natural amphitheatre formed by the hill. They brought out their lights again, but in much greater numbers, a thousand stars in the Oslo sky, and as the song closed, the surrounding silence, the captivation of the audience was so strong, their voices singing the chorus could be heard clearly as Cave accompanied them on the piano. This was another kind of yearning, uplifting, positive, but no less keenly felt, and shared. 

They could have closed the set there, but we got two more, the simple, romantic, but also rocky “Vortex”, which has been a staple of their encores on this tour and did give the close of the set a more upbeat atmosphere. The end of it wall was “Ghosteen Speaks”, simple, lyrical, and appropriately enough, repetitive in its words, like an incantation. 

The experience of the man made the lyrics into a continuum, a long, single story in many episodes, but all united by the performance and the feelings which he sought to communicate in that moment. I had seen Sivert Høyem in the crowd early on, one master story teller come to see another at work. He can’t have been disappointed – it was a remarkable journey, full of power, fire, rage, anguish, hope, and finally, love – “I am beside you, I am beside you”. He had been, throughout, and could not have been closer. 5.5/6

Tekst: Alex Maines
Anne-Marie Forker