Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds at the St James

By Russell Bailie

During his extended encores Nick Cave dragged out God Is In The House, his surreal Sunday School ditty of smalltown Puritanism. It was hilarious, something of a punchline to the hellfire and brimstone previous two hours.

As Cave crooned the sarcastic hymn, the thought occurred that the house of St James had its own deity present. The sold-out signs show that the lanky Australian legend maintains a devoted following a quarter of a century since first turning up on these shores in the post-punk era as the mad bastard fronting the Birthday Party - and a decade since he and his Bad Seeds henchmen last played in New Zealand.

But it was hard not to come away from this volcanic gospel-fired show not thinking: Nick Cave is God. Or at least, in the troubled religion of rock, a very high priest.

Cave, all sharp creases and tall-guy swagger and saying little between songs might have been preaching to the long-converted, but he had brought a new testament.

This wasn't Cave relying on his now lengthy past, much to the chagrin of the punter who heckled, increasingly forlornly, throughout the two-hour performance for oldie The Ship Song set to finally receive satisfaction in the encores - the show relied on last year's double album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus.

The album is among Cave and co's best work, certainly the best since those early efforts which established him in a dark and literate rock territory all his own.

So the fact that he'd bided his time before touring these parts worked out for the best, really.

No, he didn't play a couple of touchstone numbers (Tupelo, From Her to Eternity among them).

But it didn't seem to matter. The voltage which crackled through ye olde anthem Mercy Seat as it helter-skeltered from sparse start to explosive finale was quite enough to satisfy golden-oldie appetites, likewise the brutal bullet-ridden blues of Stagger Lee and goth-soul of Deanna near the end.

But the new material's gospel leanings, with the seven Seeds joined by four backing singers, kept it blazing throughout, whether it was the church-wrecking Get Ready for Love or the flamenco-hipped Supernaturally. And there was a little time for Cave the doomed romantic on the relatively muted Babe, You Turn Me On and the gorgeous, curiously sunny Breathless, which gave the night a sweet lull before the next storm and a chance for Cave to light up yet another gasper.

But it was his and his band's performance of those new and inspired songs which presented the greater risk of second-hand smoke. Flaming brilliant.

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