Ever since Wim Wender’s Der himmel über Berlin, Nick Cave and the various members of the Seeds have stolen the heart of the city and provided a soundtrack for those melancholy hours before dawn. The patron saint of junk sick loners has, no doubt as much to his surprise as ours, made it, still kicking, into the 21st century.
The faithful were assembled inside the concrete circus cathedral of Berlin’s own Tempodrom. Smooching couples, serious looking literary types, aging hipsters and lovelorn teens in their droves. From fifteen to well past travel pass age, Cave’s constituency is here at its most diverse, a long way from the polarizing squawk and squeal of the Birthday Party’s formative years.
The congregation’s expectant buzz anticipated every word and every song. A more pressing concern, perhaps, was the question of just how far Cave’s hairline had indeed receded.
Musically, of course, King Ink remains locked in thrall to dirty blues and lachrymose country. The tape worm that ate Elvis has never quite managed to vomit up that indigestible meal which continues to wiggle its hips inside his too tight trousers.
The Seeds, now swollen to a magnificent seven, sport two drum kits, an array of percussion, keyboards, violins and flutes – enough heavy armament to project the presence of their frontman to the back of a very large room. They were still, just, sloppy and dirty enough to match Cave’s performance of charged, unruly presence but even at their most understated the sense that this is now a show band was inescapable.
Long time collaborator Warren Ellis bears an alarming resemblance to the tramp on the cover of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung and brandished his violin like a drunk at a ceilidh, occasionally swapping it for a jingle stick or one of a series of bizarre mini-electric guitars, presumably manufactured for him by a team of rockin’ dwarves.
Various classics were dusted off and liberally interspersed with songs from their latest, Dig Lazarus Dig !!! It would seem however that fame and fortune have not made it any easier for Nick to get laid and between his hard-on and an interminably unforgiving God it became apparent (despite the rapturous approval of the crowd) that these are over-rehearsed, over-written and rather empty gestures, a road which inevitably leads to Vegas.
This complaint is not an entirely legitimate one as Cave was never more than a brilliant fake, a stage persona, a self-invented myth, behind which it is hard to determine the existence of a man. Even as he toured London’s Underground scratching out lyrics with a hypodermic full of his own blood, there was a sense of someone determined to star in a their own movie. A script was being written.
Rather like Richey ‘Manic’ Edwards tragic attempt to carve “For Real” into his arm, overt protestations of authenticity fail ultimately to convince anyone (let alone the protester themselves) and succeed only in setting fateful examples for adoring fans.
Cave’s relationship with his infamously demanding muse has always been one of masochistic abjection to narcissistic self-pity. These days the worst excesses of this have been tamed by virtue of a dubious moustache and a nice line in genuinely self-depreciating humor, however even in his humor the self aggrandizing flip side of this equation is evident in the list of catastrophes that the author is (absurdly) “called upon to explain” (are we to take it then that the unaccountable author’s mysterious moves are evidence of divinity?).
In taming these excesses (the necessary discipline of survival) and finding within them something of mass appeal, inevitably something been lost and whilst the audience clearly believed every single word it was clear that very few of them contained much truth.