Before I start, here’s a quick reminder to you all: The music industry is really struggling. If you have a spare few quid, head to Bandcamp and buy something random from a lesser known band. We need them to keep going so their music can keep us going. If you are wanting to show support please do this on Bandcamp Fridays when 100% of money heads to artist (click here for more).
So as 2020 rolled in, my gig calendar was looking fairly spectacular. A good combination of new
discoveries for me from a live point of view and some repeated trips to see some old favourites.
Unfortunately Coronavirus seems to have pretty much shut down the live circuit and so bands have
used this time to creatively engage with audiences.
Lankum and Fontaine’s DC have put out amazing beautifully shot live performances, Low have been
doing weekly Instagram shows which have now started descending into gardening tips (is there
anything that band cant do?), bands have made archive live shows available on YouTube, there has
been unexpected new release from Bob Dylan, Jarvis Cocker playing in a cave, the very welcome
return to music of Michael Stipe and what will go down as the biggest shock, for me at least, in that
Taylor Swift has managed to release an album that seems to be heavily involved with most of my
favourite bands. So with this in mind it was always going to be interesting to see what Nick Cave would do.
Cave has, over recent years, worked hard to stay connected with his audience, something that he
has had to re-think since becoming a TV soundtracking, arena filling artist. So when he announced
that his contribution to the lockdown was a paid affair I did feel somewhat frustrated given the way
that artists are giving to society at this time, however I haven’t missed a Cave tour in years so I paid
my money, connected the live stream to my TV, made a cup of tea, sat back and waited. What
followed was something quite remarkable and worth every single penny.
The evening started with Cave reciting ‘The Spinning Song‘ as a piece of poetry, whilst the imagery was one of Cave walking in isolation through the very grand Alexander Palace, as he then proceeded into a large empty concert room and took his place at his piano and started playing ‘Idiot Prayer‘. This song provided the only hint of a theme this evening as it was the first of six songs to be played from ‘The
Boatman’s Call‘. As a reference point for a one man, one piano show playing songs from that particular album makes sense given the comparative musical simplicity when compared to recent works, but it also felt really refreshing considering that other than the obligatory ‘Into My Arms‘ (also played as one of the six) as these tunes just don’t get aired as much these days.
The set as a whole jumped through Cave’s career. There were drastic re-workings of ‘Palaces Of
Montezuma‘ and ‘Man In The Moon‘ from the Grinderman albums, ‘Girl In Amber‘ performed without the loops of the original, ‘Stranger Than Kindness‘ without the chaotic beauty of Blixa Bargelds guitar, a significantly reworked version of ‘Papa Won’t Leave You Henry‘ and even a song taken from the often long forgotten ‘Nocturama‘. There was even a brand new song entitled ‘Euthanasia‘. The incredible thing with these songs that even though they challenged Cave to recreate his work, not one song missed a beat. The whole performance was genuinely outstanding and supported by some incredible cinematography but there were some stand out moments. ‘Sad Waters‘ is a song that, no matter the setting I hear it, makes me want to shed a tear with its beauty and the same was very true here, it was also the second song performed, so I was completely hooked from the beginning.
‘The Mercy Seat‘ had an incredible passion behind it and all of a sudden he made it sound as if it was a room full of people playing and not just one man and a piano. Cave also managed to come across as someone playing piano in a way not too dissimilar to Nina Simone at her most aggressive. In fact, at one point, I found myself worried about a combination of his fingers and the piano keys. He was also able to create a similar feeling with ‘Jubilee Street‘, a song that has very much become the live epicentre of shows over recent years due to the sheer volume that is created. Cave creates the same feeling it by changing the emphasis of how he sings certain phrases. Instead of screaming “I’m transforming, I’m vibrating, I’m glowing, I’m flying” this is almost said and by changing the way its delivered he loses no part of the power whatsoever.
The absolute highlight for me was just before the middle of the show. Listening to ‘(Are You) The One I’ve Been Waiting For‘ live after so many years was just perfect. The song was one of the ones that helped me fall in love with him as a writer and was one that I even put on a mix CD for, at the time, the future Mrs. Newington (CD’s had only just been invented at this point hadn’t they Mark? – Much Younger Editor). However, listening to one of his older songs immediately followed by ‘Waiting For You‘ from Ghosteen was just an amazing piece of sequencing. Clear that whoever the subject of the waiting, over years his sense of love and longing has not waved and this little moment seemed to highlight his journey just beautifully.
The one thing that was perhaps not a surprise was the emotional intensity of the evening. Each song
was played straight after the other with the only acknowledgment of change was the song title
written across the screen and sometimes some subtle changes to the lighting. There was no
interaction between Cave and camera other than a slight giggle following one song. This does not
mean that it was just ninety minutes of someone playing miserable songs. Cave looked like he was enjoying himself with what he was doing. There was almost playful experimentation with some of the
arrangements and as such it held the room (albeit that the room I refer to was my living room) perfectly. As Cave played the show’s finale, ‘Galleon Ship‘, the performance finished and he exited the palace in a similar way to his start as the camera panned back and he walked out. As the sun shone in through the window he almost disappeared behind its glare as he walked towards the door. An image that was befitting the emotional journey of the proceeding 21 songs.
This wasn’t a standard release impromptu digital live show. There was clear thought into
arrangement, lighting, room, setlist and delivery and it stood head and shoulders above anything I’ve
seen in this recent period. We may still be yet to see how songs from Ghosteen will be included in the Bad Seeds setlist but they have been perfectly introduced to Cave’s live world this evening. Whilst it is no substitute for being in the room as those moments happen, it was a very close second and I even
brought a T-shirt from the show after.