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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Her Majesty’s Theatre, London

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds launch their new album with an exhilarating show of passion, wit and smouldering blues…

“It’s a bit weird standing up here in this little theatre…” Usually the setting of the Phantom of the Opera, the stage is indeed small, but it doesn’t deter Nick Cave for a moment. For the umpteenth time he swishes the mic lead out of his way, and as Deanna starts up – a song 25 years old but sounding as vital as ever – he leaps over the monitors to roar at the grinning faces in the first few rows.

The lucky punters who have escaped the driving sleet and snow are at the opening night of a Bad Seeds international mini-tour, which begins with a track-by track airing of their forthcoming new album.

The band eases its way into the fresh material, shaking off the studio to find their live groove

Starting with the plaintive single, We No Who You Are, the band eases its way into the fresh material, shaking off the studio to find their live groove. By the time they get to Jubilee Street – the centrepiece of the record – the Bad Seeds are moving with lithe, blistering power, building to a crescendo that receives rapturous applause. Cue sly, cheeky grins between Cave and cohort-cum-talisman, Warren Ellis.

The ensemble tonight includes a string quintet, two drummers behind pink kits (including old band member Barry Adamson, covering sick leave), and a small children’s choir, angelic voices that blend perfectly with the smouldering blues filling the refined air of the 300-year-old theatre. Stood at the back, the kids receive warm attention and gentle chiding from Cave, who discourages them from texting during the show.

The new material swings around dark, edgy loops, a progression for the band that is effortlessly incorporated into their signature sound. But as ever, there are also songs of grace and beauty, Wide Lovely Eyes yet another swallow-hard moment in the Bad Seeds oeuvre.

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The spooky title track, Push The Sky Away, sinks the audience into a hushed awe, and then Nick announces: “That’s it, that’s the record”, and as if to prove they haven’t lost touch with any punk-rock roots, the band follow up with a visceral, ear-splitting rendition of 1984’s From Her To Eternity. It’s exhilarating, Cave leaning back and bouncing on his skinny hips as only he can, projecting the words with venomous relish.

With the crowd calling out requests and declaring undying love, the Bad Seeds move skilfully back and forth through the back catalogue, from Red Right Hand to O Children to the utterly gorgeous Love Letter, the latter seeing Nick make a rare visit to the piano. The slow, twisted, murder funk of Stagger Lee is the encore, that bass line anchoring seven minutes of the best noise – with extra, improvised swearing – you’ll hear this side of hell.

In all, it’s a wonderful performance, an artist and band still at the top of their game decades on, producing music of passion, wit and fury. The Phantom has got a lot to live up to.

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