Conversations With Nick CaveEventim Olympia 26/6/19
From a self-proclaimed teenage abomination, drunkenly fronting punk bands, to this figure of absolute defiance we see before us at Liverpool’s Eventim Olympia, NICK CAVE has been Kicking Against The Pricks in his own signature way since those heady Wangaratta days. And from first hearing him sing Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart during a childhood school-run, to watching him process unthinkable trauma in One More Time With Feeling, to witnessing the charged atmosphere of The Bad Seeds’ 2017 Manchester Arena show (just four months after the tragic terror attack that killed 23 people at an Ariana Grande concert), in the eyes of his devotees, Cave’s gone from goth to godhead.
“Some artists are composing and some are decomposing,” remarks one fan tonight, in the lead up to a question concerning Cave’s ever-evolving career. As an auteur persistently challenging and exceeding our expectations – in both his musical and emotional response to life – it’s astounding how he’s still able to find new ways to open up about his process. Adopted by yet another generation, there’s a real shared sense of growth felt between the man and his audience.
This was epitomised during that Manchester date, where a #GlastoAlex-rivalling youngster joined Cave onstage and cussed-along to Stagger Lee word-for-word. “The unrestrained release at the end of the show was a deliverance for us all,” he recently wrote. As the tension dissolved an incomprehensible, life-affirming bittersweetness seemed to sweep the arena. Elaborating this evening he adds, he felt “great sadness but also incredible love” as he was struck by a “profound realisation to connect with the suffering”.
His countermove was to devise The Red Hand Files (a website where he’s been responding to the “questions or comments, observations or inspirations” of his listeners), which in turn inspired this current ‘Conversations With’ concert series. He goes on to describe these “adventures in intimacy” as “tapping into the souls of my audience”, joking tonight, “you’re really fucked up!”
Stretching from the ridiculous to the sublime, tonight’s Q&A covers songwriting, transcendental meditation, his love-at-first-sight meeting with wife Susie, working with Warren Ellis, Marianne Faithfull and Johnny Cash, grief and, umm, Gladiator 2: Christ Killer, Cave’s doomed screenplay sequel to Russell Crowe’s box-office hit. At times it’s as if the lyrics from Red Right Hand (“He’s a ghost, he’s a god, he’s a man, he’s a guru”) are plastered, free-of-context directly onto our singer (an idea it’s easy to run with: he’s a shrink? He’s a jukebox?) as proceedings risk morphing into a mass therapy session or some gross gospel service. Perhaps in some perverse way, it could be seen like that. Though, for the most part, through a mutual respect, we’re considerate of the lack of boundaries, and Cave’s humour and receptivity always steers true.
“I had a happy childhood, but a thread of dis-ease [sic] with the world has always been there. I found I was able to tap into it,” Cave later reveals, “and this feeling found its name in [Leonard] Cohen’s music. When my son died, Cohen sent me an email saying: ‘I’m with you brother’. This is the way to be around grieving people.” Performing solo, the hooked bones of Cave’s songwriting are presented in all their haunted glory and as the Cohen requests pile-up, any comparisons between the High Priest of Pathos and the dubbed Prince of Darkness are quite forgivable.
The quaking desolation of Avalanche falls away to The Mercy Seat, where Cave – crown smoking, his chest now a chasm – sings as if mid-exorcism. Channelling the wild animal energy of Nina Simone from his piano stool, with the condensed intensity of the entire Bad Seeds line-up, he spews-forth surreal imaging’s of “12-stepping Teetotalitarianists”, “the spinal cord of JFK, wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligée” and the melted waxwork of “Miley Cyrus float[ing] in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake”. Colliding with the poignant transparency of classics like Into My Arms, Love Letter and recent-release Skeleton Tree –the subtle “It’s alright now” refrain of the latter still floating free, long after he exits stage – his twisted strain of genius seems indisputable.
Through his harnessed ‘subversive optimism’, Cave has masterfully “brought back the terror of live performance” for everyone involved. Communing with hurt in such a rare, empowering manner he continues to uplift and unsettle, as he “surpasses simple entertainment and move[s] into the domain of the sacred”.