APE Presents: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Victoria Park, 3 Jun

Preceded by Patti Smith, St. Vincent and Courtney Barnett among others, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds deliver an extraordinary closing set for London's inaugural All Points East festival

Live Review by Bethany Garrett | 14 Jun 2018

The team behind All Points East have had music fans across London and beyond licking their lips with their made to measure line-ups, a series of cleverly curated gigs treading the yellowing grass of Victoria Park across two blistering weekends – the last of May and first in June. Case in point, the closing night of the circus: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ headline slot, preceded by none other than Patti Smith and buoyed by a bill that reads like a who’s who of alt rock du jour in its various forms – St. Vincent, Courtney Barnett, Baxter Dury, Nadine Shah, Bo Ningen et al.

The majority of the day’s performances hinge around a tangible, emotive energy. Courtney Barnett’s voice nearly breaks delivering the tracks that sit on the heavier end of her Antipodean garage rock spectrum, namely Small Poppies and I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch. It’s the slower-paced Depreston and its lyrics of depressing domesticity that the crowd engage with most at the main East Stage, swaying along knowingly to its soft melancholia.

After playing a divisive tour last autumn which saw some fans criticise her decision to not perform with a full band, St. Vincent’s knack for total control feels like an anomaly in the day's proceedings. Annie Clark’s stage persona (and being – who knows where the line is drawn?) is clinical, neon-cladded and droid-like. It jars brilliantly with everything around it. While the sun sets and soft hues filter through the trees behind the West Stage, St. Vincent and a disconcerting masked band deliver futuristic, sophisticated art rock. As ever, Clark’s guitar playing is second to none, astonishing especially when it shows off the inherent danceability in tracks like Cruel and set closer Slow Disco.

It’s difficult to convey the power that Patti Smith possesses and commands – at 71 years old, her voice has lost nothing of the clout that defined her first brush with a wider UK audience – that performance of Horses / Land of a Thousand Dances immortalised forever in the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test archives. Of course it’s aired at Victoria Park, and of course it’s as good as it ever was and ever could be. Arms are outstretched, eyes are closed and heads shaken vigorously for the songs that segue into Gloria.

New York in the 70s seems like one of the most eulogised eras in pop culture – where old Beat poets, photographers and young punks mingled – but despite beginning her set by commemorating Allen Ginsberg’s birthday with a reading of Footnote to Howl and delivering an impassioned cover of John Lennon’s Mind Games, there’s nothing tired or relic-like about Patti Smith. Her exuberance is to be envied. Her energy is matched only by tonight’s headliner.

Bound by the dark poeticism of their stalking frontman, experiencing Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds live is an arresting experience. From the beginning notes of Jesus Alone, the crowd is captivated. Taken from the 2016 album Skeleton Tree, the track addresses the death of his son Arthur Cave at 15. You can’t even imagine the grief that Cave and his wife Susie Bick must have experienced and it’s hard to know how to respond. An artist whose lyrics so often revolve around mortality, Jesus Alone is devastating in an altogether different sense.

This set is filled with treasured moments – the pin-drop ballad Into My Arms; the full-throttle, menacing singalong of Red Right Hand and a rendition of Where the Wild Roses Grow which sees Cave joined by Kylie Minogue for a rare live duet. As if tonight’s show didn’t already feel like an event, the palpable and warm chemistry between the two singers cements this one’s status. With fans ascending on the stage for Stagger Lee, we see a maestro (and an impeccable band) at their very best, knowing that you’re leaving with the satisfaction of having witnessed something extraordinary.