Push The Sky Away
A beautiful Melbourne summer’s night was permeated with a veritable sea of flying bats overhead. Off to hunt for food overnight whilst the stage lights of Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl were waking from their slumber. Literally, from out of the shadows, Nick Cave walks to the front of the stage to rapturous applause and cheer from the sold out crowd.
The bats dispersed away into the summer night, the music and an evening of musical magic took their place.
Decked in a trademark blue suit and white shirt, jet-black shoulder length hair slicked back, the band sauntered into ‘Jesus Alone’ off the brilliant ‘Skeleton Tree’ opus.
A surprising slow, sad choice, but Mr Cave has mellowed somewhat and the night was to be a mixture of old frenetic chaotic Nick Cave and the newer sadder tunes full of loss and mourning – ‘Distant Skies’, ‘Anthrocene’ and ‘I Need You’ were all played off ‘Skeleton Tree’, as was the title track.
The Bad Seeds are now a seven piece band but all the musical arrangements work so well with this latest incarnation. They geled together beautifully from the quietest sombre moments all the way through to the blitzkrieg of noise and feedback that attacked through some of the older tunes.
Warren Ellis is now the glue that very much holds this band together and he juggles many instruments.
Tonight, starting out on the piano, guitar, and of course the violin. He is Cave’s right hand man and they bounced off each other with the usual shenanigans that bandmates who work together partake in. At one point Nick wipes Warren’s sweaty brow with a towel and another times he throws a bottle at him.
The pair have a long history now, and the cues they take off each other seem absolutely effortless. Only once did the show halt with Nick proclaiming he couldn’t hear as he had an awful bass feeding back in his earpiece.
There were a few surprises tonight, ‘From Her to Eternity’ was an utterly blistering version, as was ‘The First Born is Dead’, ‘Tupelo’ (his ode to Elvis Presley) set to apocalyptic vision of a tornado on the big screen.
Other favourites included ‘Red Right Hand’ and ‘Tender Prey’s Mercy Seat’.
Throughout the night, Nick Cave’s interaction with the crowd ranged from getting the crowd to hold him as he leaned into the mass of people at the front, to dancing with a girl during ‘The Ship Song’, to putting a feather in his suit pocket from an admiring fan – another got a kiss, to much whooping and cries of “we love you, Nick”
Even though he lives abroad – and has for many years, Melbourne must be one of his favourite places to visit and play. It’s always a case that someone I know sees Nick shopping in various haunts in inner city Melbourne or he’s signing records somewhere (as was the case recently in Greville Records).
Nick may have lost a son, but he still joked and his wry sense of humour was still evident in the show.
Commenting on the supposed curfew that The Myer Music Bowl had and how he’d be in trouble again (as was the case in Brisbane). But with an act of defiance he pulled out all the stops for the profanity ridden ‘Murder Ballad’ ‘Stagger Lee’ as an encore and ‘Push The Sky Away’ as the final parting.
Farewell, Mr Cave, until next time.
A little behind the scenes info on yesterday’s shoot. I’ve been doing the Rock Music Photography caper for just under 10 years. The vast majority of the artists I photograph are of the Heavier persuasion. If I don’t have a passing interest in your band at least, I am not going to photograph you. Yeah, I am picky and I strictly choose who I’m gonna shoot. But I do dip the toes into other musical spheres when the need calls for it.
The prospect of photographing Nick Cave felt a little daunting and I made myself very, very nervous before the shoot. For one, the photos you have seen of the night were pretty much about 4 minutes worth of his set that we were allowed to cover. And, it all had to be shot from the extreme right of Mr Cave. Two factors already conspiring to guarantee to make it a difficult shoot.
Hence the nerves hitting hard. The only other time I was this nervous was on the first night of working with Ace Frehley of KISS throughout his 2010 tour. But that was because the guy was a total fuckn dick and a miserable sonofabitch.
There were only 4 photographers shooting Mr Cave. We were told to wait for our contact outside the box office at 8.20pm for introductions and an escort down the hill to the Music Bowl.
Our contact was very late and we joked amongst ourselves if any of us had ever done any shoots when our liaison did not arrive. Because it sure as hell felt like they wouldn’t tonight. The pre-established nerves were doubling by the minute. Ugh!
Five minutes before the show began, we were finally escorted down to the tiny-as-fuck pit. No room to move. None. No way to jockey for position. Here is Mr Cave. You have 4 minutes to capture something, oh and we’ll light this entire monster stage with two foot lights. See how you go with that.
The rests of the band were invisible from where we were. A head or two would appear in your viewfinder. Try and capture that as best as you can.
Mr Cave sat at a stool at the very edge of the stage. The challenge was to use as much of the limited light and to try and make your composition as interesting as possible without your entire shoot looking all the same.
Ok, let’s get in real tight here. Wait for his hands to stop moving. Let’s go for a profile here. Is that a bead of sweat forming? Can I catch that? Can I get him and another member of the band in the same frame? Not with a 70-200mm I could. No chance.
In essence, this is what I was experiencing as a seasoned photographer in this game. Even with the restricted and difficult situation, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Nerves and all. I would do it all again because that thrill when you’re in the pit, right there when you first press down on your shutter button and hear and feel it’s click hit your finger, is utterly indescribable.
With extreme thanks to Haus and Tess for this assignment. Humble thanks to you always!