My first gig at the new ICC Sydney Theatre was not what I expected it to be. An 8,000 seat capacity venue for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds struck me as excessive at first, but then on realising this band is BEYOND LEGENDARY live, I realised I should not have been surprised that the place would pack out.
The ICC Sydney Theatre is a huge complex, and reminded me in size and scope of one of the ends of the Qudos Bank Arena (formerly Allphones Arena, formerly Acer Arena). I was impressed to see an events centre of that scale jammed into sleek buildings in Sydney’s Darling Harbour district, which has otherwise felt pretty touristy, cluttered and unforgettable for the past 20 years of my time in Sydney.
The grave of what is really the ICC Sydney Theatre’s predecessor, the Qantas Credit Union Arena (formerly the Sydney Entertainment Centre), appeared to be under some serious construction only a stone’s throw away, for what will undoubtedly be more high rise apartments.
At least the view from inside the ICC Sydney Centre is impressive, with a unique aspect overlooking the (romantic) Chinese Gardens and the (not so-romantic) Darling Harbour.
One sky I don’t want to push away.
The whole interior of the ICC Sydney Theatre actually has the distinct feel of a departure lounge. Coupled with the Barangaroo tunnel running under Wynyard, I’m beginning to feel the NSW Government’s architect contractors are secretly turning the city into an airport. In any event, more shows will be held in and around this area in the months and years to come, so hopefully there will be life and inspiration in place of the drab bore that used to be here.
And with Nick Cave on stage, the theatre is already being put to excellent use. Ambling about like Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas, the gangly Mr Cave made a ginormous room feel incredibly intimate. Lounging on the crowd, reaching out to them, addressing members specifically (“No, I love you”) and an energetic delivery of every song meant each person felt close to the action in that huge space. The intimacy was all the more intensified by the band’s characteristically dark subject matter, which draws you in and takes you to shadowy places you don’t often go, as evident on the most recent Skeleton Tree and, well, really across pretty much their whole catalogue.
“I used to think that when you died you kind of wandered the world, in a slumber till you crumbled absorbed into the earth“.
“You’re an African doctor, harvesting tear ducts“.
“You’ll see him in your nightmares, you’ll meet him in your dreams, you’ll see him on your TV screens, you’ll see him in your Tweets” (some slight lyrical alteration made on that occasion to much laughter from the crowd).
Intense. Plenty has been written on his personal life and recent events, so I won’t elaborate further (I couldn’t do it justice). But the shift to more ambient rock on Skeleton Tree is sombre, respectful and brave, and having listened to the album and now heard much of it live at this gig, I think it works (and the crowd seemed to feel the same too).
The crowd was a mature one (purple strands of hair, tattoos galore on old wrinkled skin, piercings and fedoras, a feather boa not worn ironically) – a Nick Cave show is about as Melbourne as Sydney will ever get. This meant camera phones were at a minimum and most people were there to listen and enjoy than write themselves off or be jerks. These people worship Nick Cave, and although I don’t profess to have that same affection for him (yet), I remain intrigued by his work.
I saw Nick Cave in Grinderman at Big Day Out in 2011 and there was an energy on stage (I recall particularly the song No Pussy Blues – “I petted her revolting little Chihuahua but she still didn’t want to”) that has stayed with me since then. Seeing him with Bad Seeds felt more natural and comfortable than the iteration I saw all those years ago, but the theme that stuck out the most across both the shows was the narrative in his music. Each of the songs has the feel of a little novel, with erratic, scary, disturbing and yet also beautifully flawed characters painted and described throughout.
Jubilee Street was a particular stand out, along with Into My Arms. Warren Ellis jamming out on his violin like a guitar was also a treat to watch, as was the band taking random song requests from the crowd (Jack The Ripper? Yeah we can do that).
Yes, a Nick Cave show will take you to a place you don’t go to often. It’s astonishing how a band can make something as frightening as Right Red Hand or as disturbing as Stagger Lee such an absolute pleasure to listen to. Beautiful and terrifying. Don’t miss him the next time he is in town (and a big thanks to my brooding pom “friend” James Hewer for the ticket)!