Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Live At The Royal Albert Hall

Live At The Royal Albert Hall (1998)


1. Lime-Tree Arbour 2. Stranger Than Kindness 3. Red Right Hand 4. I Let Love In 5. Brompton Oratory 6. Henry Lee 7. The Weeping Song 8. The Ship Song 9. Where The Wild Roses Grow


A truncated document of the Boatman’s Call tour originally released as a bonus disc with the greatest hits comp The Best of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds in 1998 and reissued in 2008 with a slightly longer tracklist. I’m reviewing the original version because that was the one on Mediafire. Don’t judge me; it’s not like I have a million bucks to drop on every live album that Nick Cave decides to put out. Even if they’re good ones! Which this one is!

You’ll notice that it gets the same grade as Live Seeds despite being a very different kind of show. And where Royal Albert Hall vastly improves upon its predecessor in mixing—the sound quality is pristine and every instrument is crystal clear and separated in the mix—it lacks in energy. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise – it should have been expected that the bad would carry over the mellowed out quality of The Boatman’s Call to the tour in support of the album. The fact that the first thing you hear on the record is a PA announcement imploring the chattering crowd to “please take your seats. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds are about to come on stage” should clue you as to the performance’s level of rock muscle. But if you are able to accept the fact that you’re shit out of luck if all you want to hear is Nick leaping about and screeching out “Deanna,” than there is a rather majestic yet subtle beauty to be found across this 40-minute disc.

Only two of the songs actually come from The Boatman’s Call – “Lime-Tree Arbour” is rendered faithfully and remains a lovely tune, while “Brompton Oratory” is improved by the addition of a sweet Warren Ellis violin line. This means the remainder of the tracklist is dedicated to oldies that either already fit the Bad Seeds’ new sparse, mellow aesthetic (“The Ship Song,” an effectively atmospheric “Stranger Than Kindness” that sounds almost exactly like the studio version from over a decade prior) or have been slightly rearranged to do so. The examples of the latter tact are, for me, the highlights of the album. “I Let Love In” is elegantly stripped down to the point where the main musical focus is Mick Harvey’s acoustic rhythm guitar, while the real spotlight remains on Nick’s gut-punching lyrics. “The Weeping Song” is similarly stripped down to its essential core and fares surprisingly well without its signature chiming piano/marimba riff – instead, its central features are Blixa’s scraping rhythm guitar and the more-magnetic-than-ever vocal interplay between Nick and Herr Bargeld. Nick may not have written any new songs that gave Blixa an opportunity to play much of anything interesting, but at least he still gave his German buddy his nightly vocal showcase. Spoiler alert: it wouldn’t keep Blixa satisfied for too much longer.

Other points of interest include the band’s attempts to play the hits from Murder Ballads without the aid of female singers. They make for some amusing gender confusion when Nick sings “Henry Lee” by himself, and especially when Blixa takes Kylie Minogue’s lines on a rousing, set-closing rendition of “Where The Wild Roses Grow.” Who knew these guys were so progressive when it comes to gender roles? The only way they could be any more so is if they actually let any chicks in the band. But that would be crazy, of course. Did you know they have periods? Who would want to deal with that?

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