The Only Original Bad Seed Left.

The Only Original Bad Seed Left.

30+ years into their career the Bad Seeds have finally made it to Mexico City. For fans this must have been something of an event. The ticket price seemed high at $650 with no support, but surely that meant an extended performance from ol’ Nick? 80 minutes actually, a little under-rehearsed as this was opening night of the world tour proper but surely the idea of playing a city like ‘El DF’ for the first time would create something of an impression on the band? Not really. This seemed more a perfunctory opening night where the band expects to slowly develop their groove for the rest of the tour. You’d think maybe, that might have meant a slightly lower price, longer set or just a couple of words of Spanish.

No, this was a back to basics Bad Seeds performance, no strings attached just the return of Barry Adamson on extra drums/sound effects of some sort emanating from an enigmatic little box. Ed Kuepper’s presence in the band meant that I finally got to see one of The Saints live. He remains a touring member only suggesting that Mick Harvey’s presence has been hard to replace in the studio if that can ever satisfactorily happen. The new album also seems unadorned and undownloadable until the day after ther concert in Mexico. Not to worry, pretty easy to spot the new material. ‘Push the Sky Away’ is not a collection of attention grabbing jams, instead it is the anti-Grinderman, 9 enigmatic slow to medium paced Bad Seeds ballads which, in a live context, seem designed to calm things down and add gravity to what could easily  be a set dedicated to nostalgia. Apart from the new album tracks, only 1 song comes from this millenium.

The set opened with the first two tracks from the new album, ‘We Know Who ‘U ‘R’ and ‘Wide Lovely Eyes’. Both fairly pretty and slow. This seemed to be accepted well by the crowd but something slightly more magnaminous may have suited better. In fact, I wondered if, like other recent album preview gigs, we weren’t going to get the whole album played through in order but the sequence was broken by ‘Red Right Hand’, now a swaggering piece of noisy genius that acts as an early opportunity for the crowd to at least shout the title of the song as the rest of the lyrics have not made their mark quite so effectively. If ‘RRH’ sets an ominous tone then ‘Tupelo’ was always going to serve to confirm it. This is a storming performance that still manages to reveal the power of the early, rather more primal though less hairy, Bad Seeds. It’s just one hell of a dirty throbbing bass groove that launches the track into controlled violence rather than anything more positive and yet still feels uplifting as it does deal with the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. Another new one follows, an uplifting dirge called ‘Jubilee Street’ that may be the album track that sticks around the longest but remains elusive just yet as it is clearly another grower. It may not get that chance to grow as no material is taken from the last 3 Bad Seeds album prior to ‘Push the Sky Away’ which seems indicative of the need for Grinderman to emerge and then disappear again after two albums. Personally, I could take or leave much of ‘Lazurus’ and ‘Nocturama’ but would have thought something from ‘The Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues’ double album would have been worth revisiting.

The old stuff returns with ‘Deanna’ performed and received with customary enthusiasm even if the band doesn’t seem entirely in time throughout. Still, the song remains something of a garage stomp and not best suited to a slick muso approach. ‘Tender Prey’ was my first Bad Seeds album and remains a perfect way into the Bad Seeds, featuring both the gothic horror ballads and the early thrash and drama while finishing with ‘Lucy’, as tender a ballad as any of those appearing tonight. ‘God is in the House’ follows with a singalong and a wonderful violin solo from the wonderfully demented looking Warren Ellis. In age, the Bad Seeds are starting to look like former Doctor Whos of the 60s and 70s or the early cast of Rentaghost. Ed Kuepper is in a bright blue shirt and Thomas Wylder’s absence is covered by the return of Barry Adamson for the first time since the mid-80s also in blue. The dress code seems to mark out the full-time from part-time Seeds. Experience makes the clothes darker.

All the classics are coming out now, ‘Into My Arms’ gets the singalong treatment too before ‘From Her to Eternity’ is introduced as one of the first songs the group ever recorded and still the best. He’s right, but if ever there was a career to typify not being defined by your opening dramatic moments then it’s the Bad Seeds’. It remains another one of those moments of heavy drama that suits a thunderstorm arriving outside. Along with ‘Tupelo’ this song has the effect of making any open air festival crowd, anywhere suddenly look at the sky expecting to see angry clouds. Their power is an excellent demonstration of the wonderful sound equipment that Plaza Condesa seems to have. The gigs here seem a little too slick and corporate on some levels (beer waiters, jamon serrano ciabattas!) and yet it is possible to get a clear view from anywhere in the venue and to hear every syllable sung, even if Nick gets a bit annoyed later as the monitors are “too fucking loud”.

All the dynamism of this gig seems to come from material that is at least 15 years old. This continues with a ferocious ‘Jack the Ripper’ which makes the following ‘Mercy Seat’ seem almost down-played to begin with before it takes off in all its glory and menace. Two new songs follow which both seem like they may grow in time but are not something grabbed on first listen. This is despite the interest generated by a lyrical reference to Hanna Montana making a few ears prick up in the crowd in the apocalyptic stream of consciousness that is ‘Higgs Bosun Blues’ which also features an image of Miley Cirus floating in a pool among other visions give it something of the feel of Neil Young’s wonderfully tired ‘On the Beach’. It also calls to mind Bob Dylan rambling on about Alicia Keys in ‘Modern Times’ opener, ‘Thunder on the Mountain’. After the new title track, they’re gone. The crowd seems a little surprised but would assume a double encore and may have got it later in the tour. Instead, there are just 2 further classics. A mighty ‘Stagger Lee’ seems to please everyone though I wonder about the crowd member who has the lyrical sucking references directed to them. Then it’s the post-modern wedding song that is ‘The Ship Song’ which is hard to top but also seems a rather under-stated finish, just like the opening. This is a new chapter of the Bad Seeds and one which seems to have a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude towards the job at hand. It’s a professional, slightly clipped performance by a band that will only get tighter over the coming months and the same might be said of the new material. They might have reflected a little harder on making things a little more special for their first visit to DF, even if it were to be just obligatory sombreros for each unsmiling Bad Seed. A missed opportunity for sure.

As I finish this off, I have the album on for the third time and the songs already seem to have grown in familiarity. Oddly, I expected them not to after keeping up-to-date with advance streams of various songs. Perhaps the simmering slow burn of most tracks loses something through the pathetic little speakers on my laptop that they immediately regain when fed through a source designed specifically for music or maybe I was distracted by all the fuss over My Bloody Valentine. nevertheless, there is a funereal quality there which makes this album somewhat inaccessible to anyone unfamiliar with the group. Not something that you need to worry about too much after 30 years performing ‘From Her To Eternity’. However, it does seem a little worrying that an album developed in a communal living experience as a band still does not seem particularly flexible in a live setting.

Though more could have been had for the money spent and perhaps more effort made, this remains a very good live experience that will suffice for now. I suspect they may loosen up a little for the second night and beyond but I may be wrong. A deluxe CD, t-shirt and ticket would set the punter back $1250 – over £60 on 2 hours of Nick Cave in 24 hours. Not a bad day’s business.

 

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