Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds at Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin, 06/06/18

Entire eras moved by before the crowd in the space of an evening. Backwards from retro-futuristic new wave to a counterculture happening and onwards again to a post-punk timescape, three distinct periods of pop history were juxtaposed at a midweek gig at Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Each one at distinct odds with the others.

It was a crowd of faithful early-arrivers that greeted WhenYoung. With each member clad in a coloured boiler suit and singing unabashedly in Limerick accents, the trio mined the power pop of late-seventies new wave for inspiration. A rush of guitar feedback heralded a set that was in stark contrast to its introduction: melodic and appealing, befitting the evening’s Summer-blue skies. Their sound encapsulated all that was exciting and fun in new wave on tracks like The Others – inspired by the Grenfell Tower catastrophe. But also all of that time’s clichés on lesser songs.

Far from sounding youthful, WhenYoung sounded nostalgic. As opposed to other power pop bands like Big Star’s timelessness, they came across as dated. They captured not just the reasons for celebrating those tuneful, adrenaline-fuelled days, but also the reasons that keep it firmly in the past.

Patti Smith however brought all the glories of the sixties’ counterculture that she grew up with into the present. Beginning with a tribute to Robert Kennedy, she was shamanic, righteous, cool, spitting venom at the authoritarian climate of today while evoking all the joy of a love-in. During Summer Cannibals’ climax she exposed one pale arm to the sunlight and growled “I opened up my veins to them and said come on eat,” putting mind and heart, body, soul and balls into every syllable.

Her voice, pure and strong, carried loud and clear over her three-guitar band. A band that seemed to communicate almost telepathically, each member standing on the balls of their feet and ready to react to the others’ licks or inflections. A song dedicated to author Sam Shepard reached a hypnotic apex to rival Swans’ emotional immensity. Her performance was transcendent as any meditation and twice as unifying as any manifesto. When she at last sang her immortal lines “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine,” the air rang with the sound of a people brought together. And there was just a little more goodness in the universe.

If Smith’s performance was a happening, then Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ was an exorcism. Cave bucked and brayed like the devil he sang of on Loverman, falling into the crowd knowing well that they would not let him touch the ground. The Bad Seeds’ sheets of white noise purified sullied spirits and the gentleness of Into My Arms, One More Time With Feeling and opener Jesus Alone caressed the senses with the other side of Cave’s coin: poetic romance.

Few frontmen can physically move an audience with only whispers and gestures as Cave can. And few bands can groove like the Bad Seeds. Much like the Rolling Stones, they have a rhythmic identity that’s all their own – a snaking, sexual menace. Martyn P. Casey drives the sound with his mesmerising bass-lines, allowing Warren Ellis’ to explore outer sonic realms. He pulls sounds out of his violin most couldn’t get out of synthesisers worth more than small countries. And then he sits down and bows the strings with virtuosic delicacy. Proper as any orchestral violinist.

From Her To Eternity swept everyone gathered along with its rolling repetition. A film of Else Torp filled in for the Danish soprano herself on Distant Sky while Cave tickled the ivories on a grand piano set centerstage. He waded into the audience dragging security guards in his wake, trusting the audience with an intimacy well beyond most rockstars’ imaginings. Forming before our very eyes a connection between performer and spectator too often absent at a rock n’ roll gig. 

The show reached an anarchic peak when Cave dragged audience members over the barrier and onto the stage. With more invading from a ramp stage-left. He growled, crooned and screeched through Stagger Lee, running the gamut of emotions from lust to violence in one song. Much as the whole gig moved through time periods, Cave moved an audience through thrills, chills and caresses. A rollercoaster ride on his and The Bad Seeds’ rollicking groove.

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