Nick Cave’s tour film Distant Sky comes to FACT as part of a one night worldwide premiere Getintothis’ Banjo is there to take it all in.
Nick Cave’s last tour saw him playing the world’s arenas, in a move that was somehow both shocking and long overdue.
Shocking because we had always previously had more access to Nick Cave, the Manchester Apollo being his more usual venue for shows in this neck of the woods. And overdue because there has long been a grandeur to Cave’s songs that suits a more expansive canvas, but also because he and The Bad Seeds are just so damned good that they deserve to be playing bigger venues, their popularity deserves to have increased over the years.
Cave is also no stranger to film, having been in front of the camera in films such as Johnny Suede and Ghosts of the Civil Dead. He has made more of a mark on the other side of the camera as a writer and composer of soundtracks.
His documentaries 20,000 Days on Earth and One More Time With Feeling have given his growing army of fans a rare chance to see the man behind the myth.
The logical conclusion of these two facts is his new concert film Distant Sky. Filmed at a gig in Copenhagen in October 2017, Distant Sky has been shown in only 500 cinemas worldwide, which makes tonight’s viewing at Liverpool’s FACT a rare treat.
Promoting his burdened and emotional Skeleton Tree album, Cave’s 2017 tour was simply magnificent. Getintothis previously noted how Cave’s creative drive, his burning need to create, may well have been the saving of him following the tragic death of his son Arthur.
For Cave to take Skeleton Tree’s songs on the road must have been to nightly relive the feelings and situations present when the album was recorded, and the gigs were as emotionally charged as any this writer can remember. His gig at Manchester Arena last year stands out as one of the very greatest I have ever seen.
So the chance to see him again, albeit on film, is one that simply must be leapt at.
FACT slowly fills up and soon enough, the credits roll and we are up close and personal with Nick Cave as he walks on stage.
The first thing that one notices about seeing a concert in a cinema is that we all, to a man, wish we were actually at the gig. Although the shots from the crowd bring us as close to that as is possible, it is not the same watching from the comfy confines of FACT‘s plush upholstering. The urge to clap after the first song finishes is a powerful one and I am forced to wonder how many people would have joined in had someone started.
Starting with Anthrocene, two things are immediately apparent. The first is the undeniable fact that the Bad Seeds are one hell of a band. The quality of musicianship on stage is incredible, with many of the players on stage taking on multiple roles, swapping instruments as the music and the mood demand. Cave has long surrounded himself with quality musicians, but he is lucky to have such a group of musically empathetic foils on this tour. The songs on latest album Skeleton Tree demand a certain level of empathy and the Bad Seeds are able to give this, their playing leaving a space for Cave’s lyrics to inhabit. They can also create an intense din when the occasion arises.
The second thing that is apparent is that Cave’s quality control has not slipped one iota. His new material is at least equal to the mighty canon of songs he has built up over 14 albums. In fact the Skeleton Tree material stands out and provides many of the gig’s highlights. Live, the songs are more substantial than the gossamer thin, almost there versions on the album itself.
Cave’s audience appreciate the emotion inherent in these songs. During the quieter sections of Anthrocene or Jesus Alone, the crowd are completely silent, caught up and enveloped by what they are seeing. It is a rare performer who can command complete quiet from an arena audience in the first song.
This is not to say that the whole gig is one of sombre reflection. From Her To Eternity is a sonic tour de force, its peaks and troughs keep coming, the attack of its chorus sounding huge, even in the enormous Dutch arena. Red Right Hand has taken on a life beyond Nick Cave, having featured in many film and TV soundtracks, such as Scream, Hellboy and, most famously, Peaky Blinders. Always a live highlight, Red Right Hand has become the Bad Seeds anthem.
Cave‘s interactions with the crowd go above and beyond that of most other performers. Cave has grown up on stage, from a wild youth to an elder statesman, and his stage experience shows. To engage with his audience, Cave has a small platform that runs the length of the front of the crowd that he uses to get in amongst his fans. He uses this regularly, erasing the distance between performer and audience. He touches the outstretched hands, grabbing one and placing it against his chest as he sings ‘Can you feel my heart beat’ in Higgs Boson Blues.
Later in the gig, he abandons the stage altogether and jumps into the crowd, only to be hoisted up seconds later, the crowd lifting him into a standing position and depositing him back onto his platform.
The show’s highlight is a beautiful, emotional version of the film’s title track, Distant Sky. Else Torp is brought on stage to sing her parts, a rare treat for Copenhagen, as she was only available as an image projected on screen for most on the 2017 tour. Distant Sky itself is a simply beautiful song. Hymnal in nature, it as if Cave uses Torp to sing the parts of the song that were just too emotional for him.
With the cameras getting closer than the audience can, we catch the most emotional part of the whole evening. As Cave sings ‘They told us our gods would outlive us, they told us our dreams would outlive us, but they lied’, his eyes fill with tears that catch the glare of the stage lights and reflect Cave’s raw emotion back at us. The spotlight fades and moves, and when we next see Cave, he has recovered his composure, for now.
Distant Sky captures the intensity, the emotion and the drama of a Nick Cave gig perfectly. It may be a no frills live document, but nothing else is needed to capture a Nick Cave gig. Now the one night showing of the films has concluded, we can only hope that Distant Sky gets a DVD release. As this kind of a band, this kind of a show and this kind of a frontman deserve as much exposure as possible.
A tremendous document of an amazing live band. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live are as good as music gets.