When this show was first announced I was a bit skeptical; just Nick and Warren, in the same cavernous theater they sold out with the full Bad Seeds lineup a couple of years ago? And what would they play, just Carnage and maybe some of their soundtrack work? Nah, this can’t work. Cave’s best performances rely on the fire and brimstone of a full raging band behind him, right? A data point suggesting otherwise was his excellent live-streamed Idiot Prayer solo performance during the end of quarantining in 2020. With no opening act, his beard led the way as Ellis came out first and gave a hearty wave to the crowd, followed by Nick who was grinning and looking very much at ease and actually enjoying himself. The rest of the ensemble consisted of three background singers and a youngish man who rotated between keyboards, bass guitar and drums. Spotlights framing his slender frame, covered as always with a white, open-necked dress shirt and snazzy suit, Cave gazed out into the room and took in the scene.
The sound of the show was superb; the Wang is acoustically excellent and the balance and volume was perfect. No ear plugs needed with solid, deep sounding bass and crisp tones in the higher part of the frequency range. Cave’s voice was in fine form and his transition from the shouted cacophony of The Birthday Party to the smooth, confident and polished singer he’s become ever since circa The Good Son has been one of the more improbable evolutions in music history. Not surprisingly the set was heavy on both Carnage and Ghosteen, as he never had a chance to tour on it due to- well, you know.
To be honest, I never thought that Ghosteen felt like a Bad Seeds record, given the barren, sparse songs and relative lack of the usual Bad Seeds sound. It felt like a continuation of the naked grief of Skeleton Tree, the record that Cave created in the aftermath of his son Arthur’s tragic, untimely death. If you haven’t seen the touching, intimate documentary of One More Time With Feeling that was created while the record was being made, I can’t recommend it enough, even if you are not a fan of Cave’s music. Wisps of Cave’s grief and reconciliation were present throughout, via the repeated “Where did they go?/Where did they hide?/We don’t ask who/We don’t ask why/There is a kingdom in the sky/There is a kingdom in the sky” refrains of “Lavender Fields” with the background singers evoking an entire gospel choir. “Waiting For You” shared kindred shards of pain and longing. The somber tones of “I Need You” sketched out Cave’s plea to his wife to help collectively shoulder their burden, the ending phrase of “I need you/nothing really matters” getting softer and softer, the audience joining him. Brutally human. (As an aside, Cave’s Red Hand Files remains an intriguing and intimate view into his thoughts that he shares with his audience, and a recent one on living and dying was wonderfully written.)
It took until “Hand Of God” to get the crowd up and out of their seats and into some state of religious ecstasy, with Nick engaging with the people at the front of the stage. Two songs before that we finally saw Ellis swap his little keyboard for his violin as Cave predicted a life-changing solo in the T Rex cover (after the 3rd chorus!) that would bring about world peace and banish diseases. We’d be telling our grandkids about this solo. Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far as Ellis remained seated instead of his wild, dervish-ways of sawing at the violin and occasionally leaping from the stage floor as he does during The Dirty Three shows. He did lean back in the chair and kick his legs up in the air a few times so maybe it was abs day.Which leads to me to my main complaint about the show, and while it’s a minor one there was definitely too little Ellis on offer tonight. Aside from his muted keyboard duties, he’d also be called upon here and there to give a 1-2-3-4 lead-in to songs in an endearingly lackadaisical manner. It’s weird to see him on stage with so little movement but Cave was in motion a lot, at one point throwing himself down to the feet of the backing singers with his arms up, as if beseeching them for forgiveness. We all need forgiveness, and together we need redemption. Cave facilitated that once again tonight, with astonishing success.