It seemed fitting that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds kicked off their set Monday night with ‘Anthrocene’, off their 2016 album, Skeleton Tree. “I hear you been out there looking for something to love / Sit down beside me and I’ll name it for you,” Nick Cave sang, launching into a near two-and-a-half-hour set before an audience for whom the band was clearly that beloved thing. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have always been a dynamic live band, but at the Manchester Arena the energy exchanged between band and crowd formed a synergistic feedback loop that never abated the entire night.
The band usually plays smaller venues in the UK – their 2013 Manchester stop saw them play the O2 Apollo – but this tour is booked into a string of arenas and their live show proved more than equal to filling the space. In a well-tailored black suit, inky hair slicked back, Cave skittered indefatigably across the stage, spinning tales of damnation and redemption before a crowd of the faithful. Whether clambering across the top of the crowd or hauling fan after fan up onto the stage during the vicious romp of ‘Stagger Lee’, Cave was rarely beyond the grasp of an adoring audience. Bandmate and collaborator Warren Ellis not just played but – yes – shredded on violin, dancing with abandon.
The setlist spanned the entirety of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ career, from their debut album to a remarkable seven songs off their most recent record, making a powerful statement: over thirty years on, the group are still writing new songs that are as strong and affecting as their early material. During ‘Distant Sky’, the moving image of Else Torp, who had provided guest vocals on the song, was projected above the band, her soaring soprano vocals filling the arena and creating a liminal moment which dissolved the boundaries between absence and presence, between the cinematic and the real.
After playing a full-length set and leaving the stage, the band returned for a lengthy encore. For the final song of the evening, the ethereal ‘Push The Sky Away’, the crowd which had filled the stage during ‘Stagger Lee’ sat down before Cave en masse, as though in supplication. “Some people say it’s just rock and roll / Oh but it gets you right down to your soul,” Cave sang, his slender figure wreathed in pale blue light, and voiced what was in all of our hearts.