Concert Review

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis bring Carnage to Scotland

Nick Cave finally plays Ghosteen and Carnage album material live on tour

Every Nick Cave gig is an immersive experience. Whether it is with “The Bad Seeds” as we know them, stripped back solo performances or alongside his muse, Warren Ellis, they are intense. Add the fact that his two latest albums are the most immersive and emotional experiences you could ever have and that you have probably only had to experience them in your home environment would make even the hardiest of music lovers a little nervous of experiencing them in a public forum. 

The Music Hall in Aberdeen had a busy throng of eager fans flowing through their doors and they were all seated with bated breath to see Nick Cave unleash his mastery. The iconic sight of the piano front and centre, the solo chair alongside for Warren to wield his wizardry and a single bare looking drum kit were complimented by three naked microphone stands overlooking the piano.  As the now-familiar Cave/Ellis movie soundtrack intro music faded, there was a collective intake of breath as the audience anticipated the arrival of the maestro himself. 

The “Conversations” tour had acclimatised most of the audience for what was to come and the last two albums, “Ghosteen” and “Carnage” provided the backdrop for the evening’s script.

Ghosteen”, written pre-pandemic but ultimately affected by cancelled tours, finally got its full live premiere. We had seen glimpses of what was to come with the “Idiot Prayer”, a solo performance which was initially a live stream, finally there was a live forum and the essential interaction and reaction that Cave has come to demand from his audience. 

The scene set, and most of the payers already in place, Cave strode onto the stage with purpose and acknowledged his audience in true fashion with his now customary waves. The opening two tracks from Ghosteen began the performance. “Spinning Song” and “Bright Horses” saw Ellis crouched over his Korg keyboard and dominate the soundscape. The irony of the opening lyrics was not lost on the crowd as Cave delivered “Once there was a song…. About the king of Rock ‘n’ Roll” – “With his Black Jelly hair, he crashed onto a stage in Aberdeen”. If you are ever going to endear yourself to an audience, give them a name check and he does so with some aplomb. As he goes on to sing, “And I love you” the crowd’s empathy pours out for those lyrics written after the unfortunate death of Cave’s son in 2015.

It wasn’t long before “Carnage” reared its head with the title track from his latest album. Written during the lockdown, Cave and Ellis have evolved their predominantly movie soundtrack based partnership. With the trilogy of albums, Push the Sky Away/Skeleton Tree/Ghosteen challenging their fan base, Carnage has tested their resolve even further. Ellis continued to orchestrate the evening from his chair and “White Elephant” certainly animated the evening as Cave leapt like a demon around the stage to the backdrop of the rapturous song.

It’s at this point in the proceedings Cave announced, “You can yell shit out if you want, you are Scottish” to which the riposte from the crowd is “Och aye”. A brief light-hearted moment to lighten the sombre surrealism. The crowd were almost hypnotised with the title track of “Ghosteen” as the vocal harmonies have that endearing uplifting quality that make you feel almost light-headed. Cave’s cutting edge vocal delivery always keeps you grounded and bring back sombre reality to juxtapose the delirium of the music. There’s a real reverence and beauty with “Lavender Fields”, it gave the backing singers the chance to shine. The Church or Cult of Cave is in full flow as they sing “There is a Kingdom in the Sky”.

Nick Cave spots a young man in the front row and asks him if he sings a version of “Star Charmer”, one of Cave’s incarnations (Grinderman). He informs the lad “Yeah, I’ve seen you on the internet”, “It’s so beautiful”. Cave asks what his name is, “Oliver” is the response and Cave shares the fact that his wife loves that version and Cave should sing it like him.

The rendition of “Waiting for You” is almost heart-breaking. Cave’s vocal cords strain to deliver “Waiting for you…. To return”. The same can be said for “I Need You”, Cave finished the song with the repetitive “Just Breathe, just breathe, just breathe….” Ironically, he appears to almost faint at the piano, whispering the words until they tail off into the ether. 

There was a welcome break from the heart wrenching songs as the T.Rex classic, “Cosmic Dancer” injected some much needed relief and saw some of the audience become captive dancers as they move around on their seats.  

“God is in the House” gave Warren Ellis the perfect platform to show why he is such an endearing character as his dexterity on the violin was applauded by the audience as he exaggerated blowing them kisses. Cave of course fuelled the fire and goaded his musical partner much to the delight of the entire venue.

The chanting hypnotic chorus of “Hand of God” sees the cult like nature return to the performance as Cave’s on stage choir drove their harmonies through the room. The main set closed with “Balcony Man”, the final track from “Carnage” and the final message from Cave being “What doesn’t kill you just makes you crazier”.

The applause is truly rapturous from the audience as they gave the departing ensemble a standing ovation. It wasn’t long before they returned to unleash the mammoth “Hollywood” from Ghosteen. The throbbing rumble of the bass reverberated throughout the room as Cave delivered the spoken word narrative of the song. Its was nearly 15 minutes of indulgence at its best.

Nick thanked the crowd then announced, “Here’s an ancient Nick Cave song… it’s from the dak ages”. The recognisable “Henry Lee” saw Nick duet with Janet Rasmus with fittingly dark raven hair similar to Polly Harvey who first sang with Cave on this iconic song. Cave took the opportunity to acknowledge the applause and introduce his fellow musicians Johnny Hostile on Bass, Drums and Keys, backing singers Wendi Rose, T Jae Cole, Janet Rasmus and of course, the unmistakeable figure of Warren Ellis. 

The audience stood up and demanded another encore. Cave was a solo figure when he returned and took pride of place at the piano and lightly begun to play the recognisable “Into my arms”. The buzz died down and he delivered an emotional performance, subtly supported with the delightful harmonies of his attentive aural angels. As the applause died down, Cave thanked the crowd sincerely for coming along and kickstarting a return to some form of normality by attending concerts. The poignant lyrics of “Ghosteen Speaks” were like an epitaph for the performance, as Cave delivers the lines “Well, I think they’ve gathered here for me”, it is almost self-deprecation at its finest as he continued to sing “I am within you… You are beside me” he knew how to endear himself without ever comprising his integrity.

The tour continues with the following dates;

23 September – City Hall, Sheffield
24 September – Sage, Gateshead
27 September – Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
29 September – Globe, Stockton
1 October – De Montford Hall, Leicester
2 October – Symphony Hall, Birmingham
6 October – Royal Albert Hall, London
7 October – Royal Albert Hall, London
10 October – Dome, Brighton

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