Four years after playing Heineken Music Hall, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds made a triumphant return to Amsterdam last friday. This time bigger, bolder and, most importantly, better. We were there.
Since we last saw Nick Cave in Amsterdam, a lot has happened. Cave tragically lost his son when he accidentally fell to his death from a cliff, and the only way he could – or would – respond to that, publicly was with the release of Skeleton Tree, which maybe, and understandably, is Cave’s moodiest work yet. As such, we feared Ziggo Dome, able to house 17.000 music lovers as opposed to the 5.500 of Afas Live (formerly known as the Heineken Music Hall) would be a tad too large for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Especially when playing Skeleton Tree in its entirety, bar Rings of Saturn. Boy, were we proven wrong.
With effective but minimalist lighting and three video screens in artsy black and white, the band starts off with Anthrocene, the first of three Skeleton Tree tracks to kick off the concert with. The hall is dark and you can almost hear a pin drop during those first songs, as the entire audience gazes enraptured towards the stage, where Cave prances eerily about as if he’s in a trance. Especially on Jesus Alone Cave stares into the crowd repeatedly calling out to his late son: “with my voice I keep calling you”. Yes, Ziggo Dome might be very big and the quiet, contemplative first songs almost drown in it, but the emphasis there is on “almost.” Cave wails and moans his way through these tracks, and it’s absolutely captivating stuff where you forget to breathe, or simply don’t dare to in fear of disturbing the quiet.
The sense of relief when the band kicks in slightly lighter fare with Higgs Boson Blues (from Push the Sky Away) is palpable, as if 17.000 people collectively gasp for some air. The rest of the concert alternates between material from Skeleton Tree and older, tried material, such as the haunting For Her to Eternity and sweet sounding Into My Arms. Interchanging lighter songs with truly dark stuff works wonders, and you can see why the band have not changed up the set list at all since the start of the tour. This is a carefully planned out production, where everything, from the lighting to the song order works. You can get through the depression of Jesus Alone when you set a thunderous version of Jubilee Street opposite that. You can wail your way through the positively heart-wrenching I Need You when you can roar through The Mercy Seat after that, which is a mandatory song in each live set. There is can be no darkness without light. Or in this case, a slightly brighter darkness. Because Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, of course, do not produce happy music.
The way Cave and his band manage to transform a huge concert hall into a quiet and intimate place is mesmerising. This, in part, is due to some truly effective lighting, but a large part of it is in the capable hands of Nick Cave himself, who constantly seeks interaction with the audience. Continually holding hands, leaning into the crowd up front, having them feel his heartbeat in a captivating moment during Higgs Boson Blues and ending the concert with a massive crowd on the stage during momentous versions of Stagger Lee and Push the Sky Away, the man works wonders on the audience, alternatively pouring his heart out and trying to put a spell on the crowd like some creepy voodoo priest. We were somewhere halfway in the hall, and were enthralled throughout by the raw and emotive performance. And not only Cave’s, truth be told. Frequently stealing the limelight in his own way is Warren Ellis, whose Rasputin-like presence looms ever large in the background. Together with the exceptional lighting and occasional use of video images, it makes for a properly creepy spectacle at times, perhaps best showcased in the marriage of haunting imagery of a stormy beach and a stellar performance in Tupelo.
Nick Cave came, saw and pretty much blew the roof off of Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome, against all odds offering a perfect harmony of spectacle and intimacy. Most definitely a night to remember, and surely one of the concert highlights of the year.
- Jesus Alone
- Higgs Boson Blues
- From Her to Eternity
- Jubilee Street
- The Ship Song
- Into My Arms
- Girl in Amber
- I Need You
- Red Right Hand
- The Mercy Seat
- Distant Sky
- Skeleton Tree
- The Weeping Song
- Stagger Lee
- Push the Sky Away
- Nick Cave – vocals, piano, organ, harmonica, percussion, electric guitar, string arrangements
- Thomas Wydler – drums, percussion, vocals
- Martyn P. Casey – bass, vocals
- Jim Sclavunos – percussion, drums, organ, melodica, vibrophone, vocals
- Warren Ellis – violin, Fender mandocaster, loops, mandolin, tenor guitar, viola, bouzouki, accordion, flute, lute, piano, programming, percussion, string arrangements, vocals
- George Vjestica – acoustic & electric guitars, piano, vocals
- Toby Dammit – piano, vibraphone, mellotron, organ
Review by Ralph Plug & Wander Meulemans