Symphony Hall, B’ham
If I was a religious man I would say I had had a religious experience. I’m not, but I can sort of see the appeal. Sure, it’s the truth that Cave has always carried lashings of old time preacher man about his persona and in his lyrical bent, but never has it been writ this large, the whole ambience being a cross between a revivalist service and a medicine show, with Cave the shaman at the front, one step away from communing with serpents and talking in tongues. Elsewhere it was surely God, or maybe Moses, in the form of Warren Ellis, keeping a dementedly benign grip on the order of service, a wraith of hair and beard, thrashing away on his precariously knees balanced keyboard. At the back of the stage a lone figure, doubling (trebling?) on bass, percussion and assorted IT gizmos and gadgets, with, over to the right, behind Cave’s piano, stood the three implacably swaying figures who would provide deliciously righteous backing and additional vocals. The backdrop a single long black curtain.
With sepulchral church organ swirling around the cavernous room, the mood was being set. With no support act to dilute the tension or the theatre, at a little around 8.15 the performers strode on to a standing welcome: the faithful were in assemblage. Cave, dressed in trade mark suit, white shirt and jet black mane, barely rippling from behind his ears, stayed on his feet, striking poses as he launched straight into the first two tracks from Ghosteen, Spinning Song and Bright Horses, gaunter and harsher here, even than on their parent album, showing how intrinsically linked are that album and the current, Carnage, a reliance of drone and lyrics often nearer spoken than sung. Carnage, the title track, is the first to have Cave at his piano, the chord play majestic counterpoint to the maelstrom of noise cooked up by Ellis and new-collaborator, Johnny Hostile, the man at the back. The set continues, largely songs from the two albums, the mood given passion, and compassion, through the reassuring balm of the vocal trio. The odd older song seeps in: a wrackedly beautiful I Need You, from Skeleton Tree, the album that pointed the direction that Cave, perhaps pulled by Ellis, was heading, itself followed by the glorious deconstruction of 20th Century Boy, the T.Rex song Cave contributed to Hal Willner’s Golden Headed Boy Marc Bolan tribute. This sees Ellis pick up his violin to deliver a couple of coruscating solos. Next comes the highpoint of the show, for me, the pairing of the nearly 20 year old God Is In the House, in heart-rendingly drawn out focus, with the snap into a demonically possessed Hand of God, wilder and scarier by far than the Carnage version. Cave is in torment, on his knees in front of and facing the three backing singers, all chanting the song’s title, beseeching for his fate, Ellis howling at the moon for added maelstrom, his hands conducting the chaos, his feet a riot over the massed pedal station on the floor. Two more songs apiece from Ghosteen and Carnage sees Cave close on Balcony Man, his tale of surviving lockdown on his Brighton balcony, here dedicated to the provider of the freeflowing between song commentary, from the balcony on the right, down to and, occasionally and bitingly, from Cage on the stage below.
Tho encores, three songs apiece, with the pleasing surprise of Henry Lee in the first, backing vocalist Wendi Rose, taking the PJ Harvey role. The second encores sadly did not produce what might have been a local trumpcard for the audience, had he played a (Peaky) blinder of Red Right Hand, but did offer an exquisite Into My Arms, ahead of finishing with Ghosteen Speaks, which seemed a logical full stop, the crowd meekly melting away as it faded.
The cooler end of the double vaxxed spectrum, with attention to their sartorial preparations ahead of the visit of their prophet. O, and me, and a few other waifs from this parish, @stevet and the man who was once @mike-hull, each with their wives
It made me think..
This is the calling and the concerts Nick Cave has spent his entire career working up to, circumstances and tragedy only strengthening his position, a fate to be careful what you wish for.