On the final day of the 12 day long festival that is All Points East we were treated to a celebrated mass with the high priestess, Patti Smith and gothic minister, Nick Cave preaching to an almighty choir and congregation.
With the heat of the day still burning off Patti Smith arrives on stage, long grey locks flowing like a fantastic fairy tale mystic. In an unorthodox move, to celebrate what would have been Allen Ginsberg’s 92nd birthday, she opens her set with all eight stanzas from the Footnote To Howl. The part of the famous American poem that declares all things ‘Holy’ and with that sets the tone for the rest of the evening.
Watching Smith and her band pump out People Have the Power, Summer Cannibals and (poignant and timely) Citizen Ship it is clear she still has magical chemistry with long time collaborator, lead guitarist Lenny Kaye, they keep their eyes on each other taking every opportunity to add more punch to the song. These are not necessarily the standard greatest hits, but every song feels like a classic thanks to her connection with her band who have collectively lived a lifetime on the same stage. She bars her teeth, spits, flashes a smile and wails out words with true emotion, crying out like a Greek chorus calling for liberty. She could be singing just one word over and over and her meaning would still be understood.
She puts on her glasses to read from a song sheet for an elegant cover of John Lennon’s Mind Games. Her voice his beautiful with a folk choral timbre. She takes a moment for a touching memorial to former keyboardist, late great Richard Sohl. She hints at an inclusion in her set list, “He lives on in the music, he lives on in the opening chords of Gloria”.
Unleashing her poetry, Smith paints a picture of a desert landscape in her lead in to Midnight Oil’s environmentally conscious Beds Are Burning. Re-worked with a slinky quick tempo bassline. In a hip reworking of Horses, Patti singings about the fictional Johnny standing at the mic demanding to be heard, when really it clear this is her story, as the singer becomes the subject. A full on hard rocking version of Gloria finishes the set. Patti Smith and her band push the song so far that no encore is required or granted.
Few stylistic looks are as immediately recognisable as Nick Cave’s, and for this performance he has reawakened his trademark look from the ‘90s; slick black three piece suit, clean shaven with thick black collar length hair. Tonight, The Bad Seeds feel like a whole orchestra of musicians on stage. The video screens not active for most of first song, the exquisite and haunting Jesus Alone.
The audience are mesmerised but they cry out at the first glimpse of Warren Ellis seated at the piano. Choosing some of more recent, dark material exploring the pain of loss and grief. Singing the chorus of Magneto, Cave’s eyebrows knit with passionate intent. He bends at the lip of the stage casting his hand over the edge, the reaching finger tips of hordes of fans following his like magnetic tentacles trying to snag his fingers. Between songs he queries, “does anyone have a little knife, I’m breaking in new shoes”. Within a heartbeat he launches into Do You Love Me. He growls out this classic, stumbling around the stage, before sitting beside Ellis at the piano to bash out the musical break.
After a moment of composure, with the crowd still screaming Cave snarls the immortal words, “I wanna tell ya about a girl”. The orchestra is thrown into full effect with the xylophone piercing the dramatic telegraphic pulse. Ellis smashes the strings of an electric violin with his fingers while the piano keys are hammered behind them in a glorious cacophony.
Order is restored as Cave kneels channelling a possessed voice from his guts. Pointing out to a man raised shoulder level in the crowd who is challenging him to draw of the note until both of their hands are quivering. Songs like this are testament to what an extraordinary band the Bad Seeds are; a supergroup of multi-disciplined musicians who have learned to play with perfect technicality and then to abandon it all to return to the instinctive feeling of the music. Songs like Loverman sound as fresh and spontaneous as when it was first toured. Cave flies around the stage, karate kicking over anything that stands in his way. Red, white and black silhouetted lighting creates huge cinematic graphic effects on the big screen.
As the sunset creates a hazy dusk light and the air cools from a day of burning sunshine they break out Red Right Hand. Ellis hunches over his violin like a character in a gothic horror, the hunchbacked assistant to Cave’s demented villain.
“Here’s a song for Susie my lovely wife, it’s her favourite song (one of them). It’s called Come Into My Sleep”. What follows is a sophisticated, retro pop song. Percussionist Jim Sclavunos switches expertly between xylophone and tambourine whilst kit drummer (and long serving Bad Seed) the sublime Thomas P. Wylder pins the beat in place. Edging along the audience Cave finally reaches out to gently hold one of the outstretched hands. His vulnerability begins to show. Cave is an artist whose life has been forced from the private to the public.
In this vast setting a strange intimacy can still be felt. He explains, “I play this song at the piano, perhaps we can draw the spirits down if we sing together, you never know” as he quietly begins Into My Arms. A whole field singing in a responsive chorus is a sweet, sweet sound. Continuing in this vein for Girl in Amber, from most recent album Skeleton Tree, the big screen plays visuals of an empty Brighton beach with a solitary figure of a woman (most likely Cave’s wife Susie Bick) walking mournfully.
As the intro to Where the Wild Roses Grow Cave introduces fellow antipodean and one-time collaborator Kylie Minogue and they embrace warmly on stage. Minogue is glamorous wearing one of Susie Bick’s ‘Vampires Wife’ clothing label designs in gold and black sequins with its trademark prairie hem. The magic of the original song is restored, his mournful refrain and her vocals a soft answer. It is a song rich with longing and remorse. As Kylie exits the stage waving farewell to the band and the crowd, Cave sees her off with a farewell, “Kylie Minogue ladies and gentlemen, I should be so lucky”.
Renditions of Jubilee Street and Deanna provide a moment to bring the tempo back up. As the crescendo of the songs rise the back lit screen pulses yellow, black and white. The later song buzzing with an extended groovy Hammond organ solo and shuffling drumming provide a backdrop for audience participation orchestrated by Cave. Encouraging the crowd with a rousing “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon!” Cave fills the stage with crowd members for the violent tale of dastardly Stagger Lee. Hands reach for him everywhere he goes.
When standing idle he passively holds onto the hands. Women reach up for him, one kisses him without consent which he handles gracefully, but has to smear at his mouth with his sleeve to continue singing. His stage personae of the gothic southern preacher seems almost too real as the faces of fans gaze upon him devotedly as he sings he refrain to Stagger Lee, “In come the devil, with a pitch fork in his hand”. Dives upon the crowd, the sea of hands carry him smoothly in a circle from one end of the stage to the other. “Sit down sit down sit down!” He commands his on-stage congregation as if he is about to tell them a story and they stare up at him ensorcelled for one last song, hands and eyes raised for Push the Sky Away.
Live Review by Sarah Sievers of Nick Cave & Patti Smith at All Points East on 3rd June 2018
Patti Smith and Her Band and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds continue separate European Tours throughout summer 2018. Please check official websites for details.