NICK CAVE & WARREN ELLIS – BRIGHTON DOME 10.10.2021
Famously resident in the area for the past couple of decades, any Brighton show for Nick Cave always feels a bit special. Since first coming to public attention with post-punk cult favourites The Birthday Party in the early 1980s, the Australian singer has enjoyed an epic career incorporating acting and writing, as well as releasing seventeen studio albums fronting rock band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Multi instrumentalist Warren Ellis joined in 1994, and in recent times has become a core member and collaborator with Nick, with the pair often diversifying into film soundtracks. This year saw the release of their jointly credited studio album ‘Carnage’.
The Brighton Dome is fully seated for tonight’s show, and having negotiated a commendable and well organised series of Covid checks, I find there’s a considerable buzz in the main auditorium in anticipation of the advertised showtime at 8pm. There is no support, with the performance scheduled to continue until about 10.20pm. The stage set is simple. with a dark backdrop and massive lighting fixtures on stands above the performance area. A grand piano, drum kit and Warren’s backline amps stand ready. High above the stage hangs a glowering arc of additional lighting.
Coming on to a massive cheer, the players launch into a trio of numbers from the Bad Seeds’ 2019 album ‘Ghosteen’. Written in the aftermath of the tragic death of Nick’s son Arthur in 2015, it’s a collection of songs of breathtaking beauty, and it feels like a real privilege to hear some of them performed live in this relatively intimate setting. Nick prowls the stage, a tall and angular figure with swept back hair and a stylishly cut suit, his face contorted with the emotion of his performance. House right, Warren Ellis, with his distinctive long grey beard, plays seated, a small keyboard balanced on his lap and an array of pedals at his feet. A third player, Johnny Hostile, starts the set on bass, but has keyboards and a drum kit ready to go. Behind the piano, the lineup is completed by a trio of backing singers who join in towards the end of opener, ‘Spinning Song’.
Moving to the piano, Nick dedicates ‘Night Raid’ to his wife, and ‘Carnage’ to the people of Brighton, where it and most of the songs were written. ‘White Elephant’, from the new album, stands out with a much more strident and urgent feel. Nick is up, strutting across the stage like a praying mantis in elegant tailoring, channelling all the conflict and division of the current times into a ferociously aggressive vocal of venomous fury. Think of him a few years back, working the Glastonbury crowd with ‘Stagger Lee’, and you’ll get the general idea. Shafts of light burst from above, and a low ominous electronic groan is punctuated with synchronised clapping from the backing vocalists and stick clicks from Johnny Hostile behind the kit. It all gets so intense that when the time comes to return to the piano for the big gospel-style outro, Nick hurls his radio mic into the air. It lands on the stage with a massively amplified thud.
“That look is, ‘Don’t f*cking do that again!’” Nick quips, referring to the disapproving glare of the stage technician returning the microphone at the end of the number.
‘Ghosteen’ begins with a swirling electronic backing overlaid with mightily clanging keyboards. The soaring backing vocals make it feel transcendental and magical. The piece shifts through different movements, from vibey to joyful (“Dancing, dancing all around”), to heartrendingly poignant, and stunningly beautiful. ‘Lavender Fields’ is introduced as “a hymn”, and Nick is joined in a duet by Wendy Rose, one of the backing singers. The number certainly has a churchy feel.
Between songs, a star-struck audience member calls out to Nick to say how much he loves him.
“I love you too. I probably know you. Have we met?”
“Not yet!” is the snappy response that draws much laughter. The witty patron hastily adds that he loves Warren too, who is very happy to milk a round of warm applause with a bow and a wave. For his trouble, the fan has ‘Waiting For You’ dedicated to him.
‘I Need You’ is a moving ballad that Nick begins alone, seated at the piano. He is joined by Warren on violin for a hauntingly atmospheric cover of ‘Cosmic Dancer’. Warren’s playing certainly justifies the hyperbole of Nick’s introduction, and he cuts a dash rocking back on his seat, legs flailing crazily in front of him, his bow flicked up theatrically between strokes. The violin stays out for ‘God Is In The House’, one of my all-time favourites from the Nick Cave canon. I’d always imagined that the lyric was mostly ironic, but the addition of a massive gospel play out, complete with a call and response “Hallelujah” section, makes me wonder.
Insistent chanting and a blood-red wash of lighting provide the backdrop for ‘Hand Of God’, which again sees Nick bestriding the stage in rock’n’roll shaman mode, whipping the audience into an ecstatic frenzy. Johnny is pounding the kit, and Warren thrashes about wildly on his chair, touching no instrument or pedal, apparently triggering flurries of sequenced notes by sheer force of personality. It’s a powerful and magnificent piece, for me another highlight of an amazing set.
Nick likes to work the room by singling out individuals or sections for personal interaction. It gets a little out of hand with the final number of the main set, the moving ‘Balcony Man’, with all the audience in the circle seats comically cheering every line that mentions the balcony.
“This is the worst version of this song,” sighs Nick, with comic exaggeration. “The one that it ends up as forever…on f*cking YouTube!”
The applause at the end is tumultuous, with everyone on their feet, and brooks no argument whether an encore will be played. After the long, mesmeric groove of ‘Hollywood’, the backing singers take the lead for ‘Henry Lee’, a classic from ‘Murder Ballads’.
With more rapturous clapping and cheering as the players leave the stage, there’s a second encore, beginning with the touching ballad ‘Into My Arms’, with Nick solo at the piano. To conclude proceedings is the thought provoking ‘Ghosteen Speaks’, with Nick back on his feet, seemingly channelling the lyrics: “I am beside you, look for me.”
These songs exude every kind of raw emotion, from rage to sorrow to wistful, aching longing. There’s always been an element of spirituality to Nick Cave’s work, but for obvious reasons it seems to have taken centre stage of late. This performance was delivered with power, passion and consummate skill, and you can’t really ask for much more than that from an evening’s entertainment.
Nick Cave – vocals, piano
Warren Ellis – keyboards, violin, vocals
Johnny Hostile – bass, keyboards, drums, vocals
Wendi Rose – vocals
T Jae Cole – vocals
Janet Ramus – vocals
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis setlist:
(albums other than ‘Carnage’ were recorded as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)
‘Spinning Song’ (from ‘Ghosteen’ 2019)
‘Bright Horses’ (from ‘Ghosteen’ 2019)
‘Night Raid’ (from ‘Ghosteen’ 2019)
‘Carnage’ (from ‘Carnage’ 2021)
White Elephant’ (from ‘Carnage’ 2021)
‘Ghosteen’ (from ‘Ghosteen’ 2019)
‘Lavender Fields’ (from ‘Carnage’ 2021)
‘Waiting For You’ (from ‘Ghosteen’ 2019)
‘I Need You’ (from ‘Skeleton Tree’ 2016)
‘Cosmic Dancer’ (T-Rex cover)
‘God Is In The House’ (from ‘No More Shall We Part’ 2001)
‘Hand Of God’ (from ‘Carnage’ 2021)
‘Shattered Ground’ (from ‘Carnage’ 2021)
‘Galleon Ship’ (from ‘Ghosteen’ 2019)
‘Leviathan’ (from ‘Ghosteen’ 2019)
‘Balcony Man’ (from ‘Carnage’ 2021)
‘Hollywood’ (from ‘Ghosteen’ 2019)
‘Henry Lee’ (from ‘Murder Ballads’ 1996)
‘Into My Arms’ (from ‘The Boatman’s Call’ 1997)
‘Ghosteen Speaks’ (from ‘Ghosteen’ 2019)
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