Nick Cave @ Symphony Hall, 17th June 2019

As a man of a certain vintage, I still go to gigs feeling like a youngster. Rarely am I out of the top end, age wise, of a reasonably narrow demographic. Tonight however, I am possibly smack in the middle of the bell curve. Neither young nor old. It’s a surprisingly varied crowd and indicative of the current appeal of Nick Cave.  Proudly championed by all levels of music fan, be it age, sex, race, and of both financial and spiritual wealth. It’s a varied audience to say the least. 

I come with a trepidation it must be said.  Not on any level other than a doubt that it’s a format that I will enjoy. Now, I love spoken word shows, but knowing that this is a stripped back song and Q&A show, I have grave concern that handing the mic to fans is fraught with danger. A minefield of sycophantic stuttering and repetitious fawning that will make my low cringe threshold fall rapidly lower feels almost inevitable. 

Interspersing time at the biggest grand piano I’ve ever seen with questions from all areas of the hall at random, Cave proceeds to entertain the enthralled audience with poignant answers to sometimes poignant questions, with honesty, occasional bemusement, laughter and some downright fascinating answers.  

After being shown directly to the piano by a torch wielding assistant the lights raise slightly to bring an immaculately dressed Nick Cave into view, along with a stage set up of tables and chairs occupied by lucky random audience members. It gives the stage a feeling of some smoky Berlin cabaret nightclub. It enhances what becomes a very intimate atmosphere even where I am sat, to the rear of the stalls.    

Between being treated to an opening pairing of a truly beautiful rendition of God Is in The House” and “West Country Girl”, Mr Cave explains the format of the evening. The reasoning behind the “Conversations tour” and the feelings he gets from such shows all helps to put the audience at ease, because as he says, it is terrifying standing in front of two thousand people answering questions that he is unprepared for.  It’s just as terrifying standing up and asking a question he warns.    

The acoustics and the décor of the hall (my first time here) makes for an impressive experience. The sound of the crystalclear piano notes and Mr Cave’s smooth voice is all that is required to bring familiar songs to a different level in many cases. The microphone and flashing light wielding ushers also allow crystal-clear and smooth running between songs Q&As. The staff manning the doors, allowing entry and exit between songs only, also gives undisturbed minutes of sheer beauty. It’s a relaxed but smoothrunning show devoid of annoyances and disruption. 

The Q&As are for the most part interesting; sometimes fascinating and occasionally cringe inducing. Giving the microphone to someone who struggles to get to the point, someone who wishes to talk about their personal problems or someone with a speech impediment is a potential recipe for disaster. Nick, at one point, tells us that we are becoming a society reluctant to offend people, but I’ll apologise to anyone with a speech impediment if I’ve offended by that. Even these cringey moments become an integral part of the night as Mr Cave gives all due patience and ample floor time to those that need it. Gentle, patient and fatherly when required and straight forward, to the point and brotherly for those that need it. Advising where he can and gentle and listening where required. Questions on death of loved ones, addiction, redemption and loss are almost treated as a shared cathartic experience and there is a whole lot of reciprocal love in the room.  God may well be in the house tonight but it’s “not my business if God exists.” 

Other questions that I find most interesting are given equal floor time; the evolution of the song, the writing process, German Renaissance artists (some have detailed knowledge right down to what painting he had on his flat walls in Berlin!!), favourite records (“Electric Warrior” by T-Rex apparently).  

The questions are interested and varied but the collection of songs is full of surprises. Some of my favourites from the early days of the Bad Seeds struggle to sit well for me on a solo piano. “The Weeping Song” just doesn’t feel right without the call and response dual vocals of Nick and Blixa and “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” doesn’t have the drunken rage and disorientation without the full band. Interestingly enough, “The Mercy Seat”, a song that he never gets bored of performing he tells in answer to a later question, very much works for me in this format. Many of the later period songs work so well that I presume that they were initially worked out on the piano itself. 

A special moment is “Stagger Lee”, which “…offends so many people on so many different levels” and by his reluctance and admittance he never does in these formats.  We manage to cajole him in to and it sits very well indeed. 

It’s a magical evening, fascinating and beautiful and the two hours and forty minutes of time on stage is the rest of the night too short in my opinion 

“How do you stay humble?”, someone asks, “Can you do your work and not be arrogant?”.   

“It’s all about kindness. Just be kind to people, I guess.”, he tells us.  

[Pause]  

“Just be kind!”. 

And the arrogance…? 

“Arrogance is not inevitable” 

 [pause – with twinkle in the eyes] 

 “Not when you’re as fuckin’ awesome as me!”   

         

SETLIST 

God Is in The House 

West Country Girl 

The Mercy Seat 

Avalanche (Leonard Cohen cover) 

Cosmic Dancer (T Rex cover) 

Into My Arms 

Palaces of Montezuma (Grinderman) 

The Weeping Song 

Jubilee Street 

Stagger Lee 

Papa Won’t Leave you, Henry 

Stranger Than Kindness 

Higgs Bosun Blues 

The Ship Song 

Skeleton Tree 

 

 

Review: Mark Veitch

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