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LIVE REPORT: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Jeremy Allen , February 13th, 2013 08:45

Jeremy Allen heads to a seedy part of Paris for a stupendous gig by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Photo by Maria Jefferis of Shot2Bits

"Dick!" barks Nick Cave at some hapless heckler who's clearly raised the singer's ire with a comment the rest of us miss. "You know who you are," he says contemptuously with an accusatory finger pointing into the blackness, "you poor suffering individual." He draws on each word for maximum effect, and as retorts go it's crushing. Cave is in boisterous form tonight, joking with and taunting the audience, looking sharp with his suit-wrapped beanpole frame. The Bad Seeds have a backline of cellos, violins and one sole trumpeter as well as a choir of schoolchildren Cave is trying in vain not to swear in front of. The obstreperous mob before him have no such qualms. "Sorry kids," he offers, "it's French people - they don't know how to behave themselves."

This one-night-only appearance in Pigalle sold out in five minutes, and the assembled who did manage to get in are clearly pleased to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The baroque grandeur of Le Trianon in the heart of Montmartre is surely as perfect a setting as one's imagination could reasonably muster for a gig by the group. Historically a bawdy music hall, its noirish gothic loftiness and mighty velvet drapes sit nicely with the band's ostentatious tendencies, while the cabarets and the strip joints that line the Boulevard de Clichy outside are a pleasing backdrop to a group of men so often drawn to the darkside.

If there's a swagger about the Bad Seeds then they have every right. The noughties were consistent enough if slightly overshadowed by Grinderman - the devil being usurped by his own spawn if you will - with no particular album feeling essential since No More Shall We Part. That's all changed with the release of Push The Sky Away, their most coherent offering in more than a decade, and as luck would have it they play it in order.

It's an album that shapeshifts with subtlety, conjuring a range of emotions thanks in part to Cave's voice, which has never sounded so expressive; the creeping paranoia of 'We No Who U R', the decadent romance of 'Wide Lovely Eyes', the laugh out loud funny 'Mermaids' and the unbridled lunacy of 'Higgs Boson Blues' all executed with expertise. Only a writer as confident as Cave could have the chutzpah to write a song called 'Higgs Boson Blues' and get away with it without fear he might look like an idiot to future generations while mystifying us in the here and now with a mention of Miley Cyrus. His head-on lyrical collision with contemporary subject matter is heroic in its fearlessness, and it's his intelligence that keeps him buoyant where so many others have drowned in their own hubris. Of course it's handy when you've got a man as gifted as Warren Ellis for a wingman. The Paris-dwelling multi-instrumentalist hasn't had to walk far tonight, and he kills it in his own backyard dispatching crunching Keith Richards-like vavoom on the excellent 'Jubilee Street'.

Confirmed Francophile Mick Harvey isn't here tonight of course, though you feel his departure has freed the Bad Seeds up somehow. Ed Kuepper on guitar appears a safe pair of hands, and founder member Barry Adamson is also on board, filling in for Thomas Wydler. Adamson's inclusion makes 'From Her To Eternity' just about perfect. If the original sounds like the killing of rats with hammers as they bite through the strings of a piano, then this rendition is maybe the most ferocious yet in the 30 years since it was written. The pretty piano of 'Love Letters' is stirring enough, though it's the Bad Seeds at their sleaziest that will live long in the memory, the triumvirate of 'Red Right Hand', 'Jack the Ripper' and 'The Mercy Seat' each raising the bar a little more. The choir is dismissed and then the mini orchestra. There's but one place left to go, and go there they do, unleashing a suitably deranged and profane 'Stagger Lee' for the encore. Thankfully the kids have already been packed off to bed.

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