Born out of the ashes of unspeakable tragedy, ‘Distant Sky’ charts the Bad Seed’s ascension to unprecedented heights.
Possibly one of life’s greatest challenges is finding applicable adjectives deserving of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. A name that amalgamates intense emotions, vivid imagery and unique sonic sounds unlike anything else charted in music history. Innovative in their approach to the concept of what is possible with the concept of music and lyricism, in recent years the Bad Seeds have entered a defiant new phase of their illustrious career. Their 16th studio album Skeleton Tree was the sonic representation of distress and mourning. Cave actively explores death in both music and literature but latest offering is uncharted territory.
Having accumulated a catalogue worthy of its own mortuary, Cave & the Bad Seeds battled with an issue that is difficult to reflect and represent the best of times: human grief. July 2015 saw the tragic death of Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur after he accidentally fell from a cliff close to the family home in Brighton, England. Even though work had already commenced on Skeleton Tree when the tragic incident occurred, the omnipresent feeling of death encapsulates every single aspect of this album.
There were initials fears that the Bad Seeds playing in arenas around the world would mean a retreat in audience connection. A reticence from human interaction was expected after such a harrowing ordeal, however, the performance was quite the contrary. Copenhagen’s Royal Arena was reminiscent of a revivalist church as reverend Cave offered evangelical solitude and purgative comfort to 16,000 followers.
The balance Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds possess when delivering tracks steeped with tangible dread and explosive reactions is an artform in itself. A combination of maturity and showmanship allow the band to seamlessly flow into the next track whilst subconsciously signaling the start of another. ‘Stagger Lee’ is intimidating and abrasive, crowd members scramble in attempts to have their moment on stage as Cave signals permission. The entire scene is remarkable in appearance. Despite the franticness of people ascending the barrier, there is a great sense of calm and beauty that exudes from Cave, security, and fans.
Throughout the entire showing, Cave transports us into the headspace of an individual who is enduring the different stages of anguish. Although some tracks from ‘Skeleton Tree’ are not directly addressing the tragedy, this performance marks a new era for a band and more importantly for Nick. Tracks such as ‘I Need You’ and ‘Girl In Amber’ are both mesmeric as they are cataclysmic in their deliverance. Cave is a phenomenon in his own right. A mysterious lyricist working in the realm of the very best. Yet he constantly develops lyrics drenched in philosophical pessimism and a sound that transports one into an anaesthetic-state like dream that can render his work unpalatable to the mainstream. Probably for the best.
Viewers are treated to an extraordinary final moment of connection as Cave and a fan mirror each other’s movements in a synergised exchange throughout a segment in ‘Push The Sky Away’. It’s intense and captivating. Cave’s eyes penetrate the young man as he prowls, demanding attention. A glacial organ begins to throb as an amalgamation of devotion and appreciation meet from both sides. A moment for both that is undoubtedly beyond words. Cave proclaims “People say it’s just rock ‘n’ roll, but it gets you right down to your soul”. He’s certainly not wrong.
Words: Matthew Thomas