Conversations With Nick Cave, The Barbican

IMG_4103Wednesday June 19, 2019

The Barbican hall is filling up with this evening’s crowd. About twenty or so have already taken their seats on the actual stage, sitting around tables behind and to the sides of the centrally placed piano. I don’t know if these were special tickets or if they are friends of Cave, but the setting does add a more intimate feeling to the concert, which I guess, is the point.

Nick Cave, as always, immaculately dressed enters the stage to deafening applause. He sits down at the piano and plays the first song of the evening, God Is In the House. 

Last time I saw Nick Cave was when he played with the Bad Seeds at Roskilde Festival in Denmark in 2018. Tonight’s venue, the Barbican, is significantly smaller than a massive festival site, Cave is performing solo, and the format of the performance is that in between the songs, Cave takes questions from the audience. He is neither scared of going into personal details, nor of dismissing a question if he doesn’t want to talk about it. However, he answers most questions as well as he sees fit, whether about his son who died tragically a few years earlier, Brexit (about which he, as an Australian, has distanced and mixed emotions), and his songwriting process (‘going to the office’).

Many of Cave’s songs have religious and spiritual themes and he tells the audience that Jesus as a flawed human is one of the threads that runs through many of his songs. He says he doesn’t care if God exists or not but it’s important to him to live as if there is a God, so there’s something (bigger than oneself) to reach for – as a human and as a songwriter, and Cave is puzzled by the thought of songwriters who don’t believe in God, because that’s a serious reduction of material to write about. 

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Many questions from fans are started with an introductory, ‘I only have a short question’, after which the person starts asking a long-winded question which is often more about themselves than Cave. While I understand that it can be nerve wrecking to get to ask your idol a question and that the eagerness to show off one’s insight and humour in front of Cave, is tempting, it is very irritating for those of us who are here to see Nick Cave and not another member of the audience. Having said that, it becomes so comical after a while, I begin to smile about it instead of being irritated. But quite frankly, don’t start your question with, ‘I only have a short question’, when that’s clearly not true. Just admit straight up your question is longwinded and is more about yourself than the person you’re asking, so we’re all warned in advance.

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He sings a few beautiful covers, including Cosmic Dancer (T. Rex). Cave tells us an anecdote about one of his heroes, Leonard Cohen, and says that though he never spent time with Cohen, he received an email from him when his son died saying, ‘I’m with you brother’. Cohen may no longer be here but his songs still are, and Cave does full justice to Cohen with his rendition of Avalanche.

It’s great to hear Nick Cave talk and give us his insights on various things, but the highlights for me are the songs – that wonderful, warm voice, singing those (often) dark, sinister songs. Like sweet honey mixed with bitter marmite, getting the balance between the light and the dark just right.

Nick Cave setlist
1. God Is In the House
2. West Country Girl
3. Cosmic Dancer (T. Rex cover)
4. Love Letter
5. Jubilee Street
6. Avalanche (Leonard Cohen cover)
7. The Mercy Seat
8. The Sorrowful Wife
9. Stagger Lee
10. Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry
11. Palaces of Montezuma (Grinderman song)
12. Into My Arms
13. Skeleton Tree

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