As lauded as Nick Cave's albums usually are, it takes seeing the singer / songwriter and his Bad Seeds in concert to really appreciate why, for the best part of forty years, he has been acclaimed as such a powerful and compelling live performer. The four tracks on this new EP, recorded in October 2017 at Copenhagen's Royal Arena, may lack the visceral impact that comes with actually seeing Cave stalk round the stage, alternately lamenting or howling with boundless energy and leaving audiences utterly mesmerised, but they at least go some way to explaining just what the fuss is about.
The tracks also serve as a good introduction to Cave's evolution as a songwriter, coupling two tracks from his most recent albums – 'Distant Sky' from last year's 'Skeleton Tree', and 'Jubilee Street' from 'Push The Sky Away' – with 'From Her To Eternity' and 'The Mercy Seat' from Cave's wild and volatile 1980s. The latter two tracks form the firmament of the Cave mythology, cathartic outbursts of raw energy, never twice performed precisely the same, both sounding at once shambolic and yet entirely and absolutely under the disciplined control of Cave and his band.
'From Her To Eternity' was written way back when Cave was sequestered in Berlin's Kreuzberg district, working with Blixa Bargeld from Einstürzende Neubauten, a musician who knew plenty about the potential of workin g with unadulterated noise; Bargeld may have moved on from the Bad Seeds' employ nearly twenty years ago, but the current line-up – Warren Ellis (piano, keyboards, violin, tenor guitar), Martyn P. Casey (bass), Thomas Wydler (drums), Jim Sclavunos (vibraphone, percussion, piano), Geo rge Vjestica (guitar) and Larry Mullins (keyboards, piano) – are more than adept at making the unholy racket that this clangorous, urgent masterpiece requires.
Cave too, for a man whose vocal chords have been unceremoniously abused, and who today tends toward quiet ballads, still has the capacity to deliver 'From Her To Eternity' with an undiminished rage and desperation like the last 34 years didn't really happen. 'From Her To Eternity' and the the turbulent blues of 'The Mercy Seat' – delivered from the perspective of a doomed death row inmate that evolves from defiance to panic and futile regret – are, to a certain extent, blunt instruments.
Powerful and evocative, for sure, but no one can keep that up forever. From the 1997 watershed of The Boatman's Call' onwards, Cave's songwriting has tended to employ a different type of emotional delivery, a softer and perhaps more considered approach that lands its punch in a more sophisticated fashion; the effect of that on a track like 'Jubilee Street's novel-like recollections is to make its sudden lurch into feisty histrionics all the more enthralling.
It is, however, 'Distant Sky' that thrills the most. Indivisible from the image of Cave wiping tears away on the footage of this performance that was broadcast to cinemas in April of this year, 'Distant Sky' might just be the finest, most devastating song that Cave has ever written. Delivered in a soft whisper, with the most minimal of supporting musical infrastructure compared to its studio counterpart, it is immediately tender and transcendent, but devoid of all hope, the addition of Danish soprano singer Else Torp's stirring vocal enough to render even the hardest-hearted individual a bawling mess.
When Warren Ellis's mournful violin leads the track to its final, heart-wrenching conclu sion, the song coalesces into something firmer, something less etiolated and one whose profound mood takes nerves of steel to get through. "They said our dreams would outlive us, but they lied," sings Cave with none of his youthful rage, in its stead a harrowing, cold and bitter disappointment.
Words: Mat Smith
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