07 October 2021 (gig)
08 October 2021
Not, of course, to dispute how devastating Covid has been, but as is often the case from trials and tragedy, inspiring art is birthed. And so, in the throes of a second wave, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis convened to write music and Carnage was born. An album about love and loss and in many respects, a natural progression from the previous Bad Seeds collaboration that gave us Ghosteen: an at times stunningly beautiful and heart wrenching cathartic opus that orbited Cave’s experiences following his own personal family tragedy. Covid scuppered plans to tour Ghosteen with the Bad Seeds, hence a tour that majors on these two most recent albums with Cave’s long-term conspirator Ellis.
I had my reservations that a two-hour performance based on two albums of similar mood and subject that lack the Bad Seed rhythm section bringing in some punch, might become a bit samey. But Cave and Ellis orchestrated a crafted setlist that ebbed and flowed with emotion and energy. In the absence of the Bad Seeds, French musician Johnny Hostile filled in the instrumental gaps and held up the occasional rhythm section; along with T Jae Cole, Janet Rasmus and Wendi Rose bringing a heavenly dimension on vocals. Altogether a balanced complement to Ellis’s ethereal synths and Cave’s smoky baritone - sometimes tender, and at other times a choking rasp.
As ever he does, when not sat at the piano, Cave prowls the stage, with slick black hair and obligatory dark suit, moving through different dispositions: at times vulnerable, and at others raging. The Royal Albert Hall lends itself to an almost intimate experience even when packed to the rafters, and Cave’s presence was enthralling.
The mood started gentle and emotive. The personal pain weaved into the songs from Cave’s recent albums was tangible but delivered with optimistic confidence. So much so, that it was easy to forget how they came about until the odd poignant lyric cut through and struck those heart strings. Bright Horses, with its otherworldly lyrical imagery, carries such a line: ‘the little white shape dancing at the end of the hall, is just a wish that time cannot dissolve ‘… gets me every time! A few more songs to tug at the heart before White Elephant from Carnage broke the spell. A song that is visceral, raging and a lot of fun.
Cave introduced tonight’s one cover – T Rex’s Cosmic Dancer – by extolling Ellis’s aptitude on the violin, which prompted some friendly heckling from the audience that Ellis was more than happy to play up to: ‘we love you Warren’… ‘I’m only here for you Warren’. And sure enough, he effortlessly knocked out a beguiling performance on his violin.
Mockingly self-righteous God is in the House, from Bad Seeds 2001 album No More Shall We Part, brought more inter-play between Ellis on violin and Cave on piano. A reminder as to how symbiotic their creative relationship. And then Hand of God from Carnage took things into a more unhinged direction as the band came together for a fevered stomp - Ellis, writhing in his chair, hair and beard flying as he punched the air whilst Cave rasped, ‘Hand of God! Hand of God! Hand of God!’
The final song of the set, before the obligatory encores, was Balcony Man. Cave dedicated it to all those ‘in the balcony’ and challenged the audience in the gods of the Albert Hall to match the noise that the previous night’s audience had made, and of course they did oblige.
The band returned for an encore (two actually) which included two wonderful classics from the back catalogue: Henry Lee and Into Your Arms. But it was the stunning 14-minute-long Hollywood that was the highlight. An (almost) epic masterpiece, explicitly existential and a song that takes a lifetimes’ experience to write. And life and experience are certainly something Nick Cave and Warren Ellis are familiar with.