A heavy and beautiful show graces the stage of Massey Hall
Despite the vibe and appearance of the darkest man in show business, Nick Cave‘s stop on his solo(ish) tour at Massey Hall was surprisingly full of laughter. Long dark hair and sartorial seriousness aside, Cave proved humourous in his between-song banter, and shockingly even engaged in audience participation. Backed by the bassist he joked he borrowed from a little English band, Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood provided Cave’s piano and vocals the only additional accompaniment.
Walking out to a roar of applause, Nick Cave took a moment to wave to each section of Massey Hall, before sitting at the piano to open the show with Girl In Amber from 2016’s Skeleton Tree. Moving into Higgs Boson Blues from Push Away the Sky and then Jesus of the Moon, Cave addressed the audience afterward to introduce Galleon Ship from Ghosteen. Saying “This is a beautiful song, just so you know going into it. I was really happy when I wrote it.” He was correct about its beauty, which was amplified by a subtle light and fog effect simulating a ship on a foggy sea. But you can judge for yourself. Cave introduced a newer number, To Be Found, yet to be released, with a story of a review he read after a performance agreeing with his band, The Bad Seeds, about its mediocrity. Nice described it as ‘quite good, but small’, which felt correct and eloquent.
In part due to current world events, Cave’s evocative, metaphorical lyrics which often speak of love, children, mortality, and sadness, and his mantra-like performance of them, many moments weighed heavy with emotion. That weight would’ve felt too much to endure if not for Cave making wry cracks. One standout was telling the chatty floor seats after including the balconies to scream during Balcony Man, that the next song, Carnage (title track from the pandemic release with Bad Seed, Warren Ellis, reviewed by yours truly here) was an audience participation number too – that he would sing it and they would shut the fuck up. As well, his banter described where and why he wrote particular songs, such as Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry, which he wrote at a troubled time in São Paulo, finding the song within a beat that soothed his then-infant son, Luke.
The austere stage presentation of a piano, a bassist, and Cave’s voice obviously lacked a high-energy production package but that’s not to say it was found lacking. Colin Greenwood offered some bottom end for Cave, but at times seemed under-rehearsed and searching for the right note. Occasionally, his lower notes overpowered the piano. But it was clear that he was thrilled to be a part of Nick Cave’s solo show. With limited lighting accentuated only by the odd puffs of fog, there was no lack of atmosphere. The intensity of lasers and video screens was easily replaced merely by the performances from Cave’s vast catalog. A side effect of this made slight changes in lighting feel much more intentional. For instance, the first use of colour – blue, in this case, featured a third into the show during the gorgeous Waiting For You. Prior to starting Black Hair from his Bad Seeds album The Boatman’s Call, Cave described the song as starting out as a poem, as most of his songs do. He also mentioned building the song’s intensity to a mantra with repeats of the title, a tensioning technique Cave uses. The set closed with faves such as Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?, Into My Arms, Jubilee Street, and Push The Sky Away.
Returning for an extended encore, Nick Cave honoured a fan’s request to play Mermaids. After dedicating Shivers to former Birthday Party bandmate Rowland S. Howard who passed away in 2009, Grinderman fans finally got a song in Palaces of Montezuma. As all good things must end, following Love Letter and a rare Ghosteen Speaks, Cave ended the night with God Is In The House.
Nick Cave’s Live in North America tour continues tomorrow at the holy Ryman Auditorium, then swinging through Atlanta, Dallas, and Austin before ending with three nights at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. Tickets and info here.