Venue: Riverstage, Brisbane
Date: January 25, 2017
It will take a serious head injury to make me forget that time, when I was roughly sixteen and with my high school boyfriend in the local CD shop. A Sanity, as I recall. We were just two weird kids being sad and awful together. The look on the shopkeeper’s face when we proudly walked to the counter to purchase a freshly wrapped copy of Nick Cave’s greatest hits struck me as a three-fold mix of confusion, disgust and almost jealousy.
“Aren’t you a little too young for this?”
I wish we’d said something slightly more enlightened like ‘never too young to learn’ or ‘do you really want to be the guy that sells another copy of So Fresh – Hits of Summer 2004?’ Sadly though, those quips would have been best said with a smile and doing so isn’t often on the agenda of strange kids deep in the homeland of the right-wing Christian conservative.
That story encapsulates the vast majority of my Nick Cave experience. The deeply poetic ramblings of a weird man that soothed the best efforts at angst a private-schooled teenage girl, from a middle-class family can muster.
Twelve years later, and the query from the surly retailer now has a very simple answer: ‘yes, probably.’
This answer made itself abundantly clear at his concert at the Riverstage in Brisbane. My dear friend and I marched up to the amphitheater with compatriots that were largely senior to us. We were clearly juniors in the game, super green. Greener than the guys behind us enjoying a fair whack of weed – granted though, their verdant pleasure didn’t waft our way until at least after the fourth song.
My knowledge of the Best Of record, and of the band’s sixteenth release Skeleton Tree was more than enough to get me through two solid hours without looking too much like a massive-poser-dickhead, I hope.
It was abundantly clear why Nick Cave fans came to be, as well as producing masterful music, the man’s a charmer. After an overly enthusiastic punter shrieked his request, Cave reasoned why that song wouldn’t come next, in dulcet tones:
“It would do irreparable damage to the set, it’s kind that you like that song, but we will play it later, especially for you.”
And play it later they did. Sure, it was The Ship Song, and based on the hoots of appreciation that it’s intro roused, it sounded as though at least 95 per cent of the audience would have been devastated if it didn’t make an appearance on the set list. I had convinced myself that The Ship Song was Australia’s national anthem of sad-fucking, and then they busted out Into My Arms, which makes the former seem like Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.
The highlight of the evening, to my mind, was Red Right Hand. It was glorious. The stage brightly lit with shocks of colour, casting a look of displeased omnipotence into the night’s sky. My favourite thing about any of Nick Cave’s work is that it always has you rushing for the liner notes. In some cases, sure it’s a sort of moral panic, but in others there’s a knowledge that there’ll be something to learn. For instance, I learned that the expression ‘red right hand’ comes from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and makes reference to a vengeful god. The man makes you feel poorly read.
After Skeleton Tree, the band politely performed the arbitrary ‘go away-come back’ procedure of the encore. Cave made mention of the absurdly early curfew placed on noise at the Riverstage (10pm) and encouraged all attendees to write sternly worded letters to the local council.
Nick Cave, and his friends The Bad Seeds, finished with Stagger Lee, which, impressively, is even more terrifying live.
As we rolled back down the hill in to the real world, a pair behind us mused over the make-up of the crowd. One monologue went a little something like this:
“50% are making their way to the ferry to go back to Teneriffe to live their Teneriffe lives – did you know they’re from Teneriffe? They’ll get the ferry and go back to living their Teneriffe lives. And the other half, well, they look like they’ll be going back to smack and the gutter…do you know how cheap heroin is in Germany? Maaaaate….”
In all, I left the scene happier than I expected to be. I thought 120 minutes of post-punk gothic ballads and blues would leave me feeling sombre and mournful. Not so. Standing on a hill, feeling feelings with my fellow man was wonderful. While I’ve been able to strike Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds from the bucket list, I’ve now got a reading list a mile long.
Higgs Boson Blues
From Her to Eternity
The Ship Song
Into Your Arms
Girl in Amber
I Need You
Red Right Hand
The Mercy Seat
The Weeping song