Exuding astounding stage presence and connecting immensely well with the mesmerised crowd, Nick Cave brought his UK tour to Nottingham and it didn't disappoint. Louis Griffin reviews.
Nick Cave struts out from the wings, onto the stage of the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham. He reaches out to the crowd, pauses, seems to reconsider, and retreats to the centre of the stage. Cave is an instinctive performer, with all the assurance of a devout preacher, but it seems even he has been knocked somewhat off-balance by two years of enforced isolation. No matter. He gathers himself, fixes the audience in his gaze, and as Warren Ellis massages a soundscape from a comically small keyboard, begins to intone Spinning Song, the first track taken from Cave’s 2019 album Ghosteen. The setlist on display tonight is nearly unrecognisable from his last live outing – he appears tonight with gospel singers and a drummer, but no Bad Seeds to be found. Neither are there the tracks that have been staples of Nick’s set for the past decades, with Red Right Hand and Into My Arms markedly absent. Instead, tonight’s show is comprised of tracks from Ghosteen and this year’s effort with Ellis, Carnage. With two whole albums that haven’t yet received a live airing, there’s no time for retrospection.
Cave transitions from a figure of grief and melancholy to one of rage and spite
It’s testament to Cave and Ellis’ chemistry that they carry the set as lightly as if they’d been playing it for years. The opening salvo of tracks from Ghosteen are spiritual, more hymns and meditations than songs. Cave has always had a preoccupation with religion, but with a choir behind him what once might have been considered tongue-in-cheek imagery now has a ring of truth about it. Lavender Fields is constructed around the mantra “there is a kingdom in the sky” – initially, it feels like a throwaway line, but as Cave and the singers repeat it over and over, it takes on another gravity entirely.
Whilst the Ghosteen material is largely of this ilk – Nick’s spoken word meanderings, Warren’s synths ebbing and flowing – the set is punctured by two tracks from Carnage. White Elephant is a shot across the bow, throbbing bass being stalked by harshly artificial strings. Cave transitions from a figure of grief and melancholy to one of rage and spite. He’s “coming to do you harm” – and you believe him. The marked shift in energy is breath-taking, the sudden realisation that Cave has been showing us just a fraction of his powers thus far. The second disruption is courtesy of Hand of God, the opening track from Carnage. Warren discards his keyboard, and joins Nick, the singers, and the drummer, in screaming the hook over and over into any microphone nearby. The effect is mesmerising – it’s like watching a faith healing, or an exorcism.
But these moments of fury are the exception, not the rule. For the most part, tonight consists of gorgeous, layered ballads, sounds that feel fully at home at the Royal Concert Hall. Before Nick took to the stage, there was an air of caution in the venue. For many of those present, this was their first concert post-lockdown, and so there’s very little of the sense of community that Nick Cave performances usually result in. But instead, aided by the almost meditative set, there’s a sense of serenity. Cave has always been a shapeshifter. From the early punk of The Birthday Party, through to the left turn into balladry with The Boatsman’s Call, and now ambient electronica post-Skeleton Tree, he has always found purpose in reinvention. And tonight, Nick Cave proves that he the perfect soundtrack for an audience reeling from a global pandemic, too. Written by: Louis Griffin
Edited by: Amrit Virdi