Another show derailed by the pandemic, Nick Cave’s belated airing of Ghosteen finds its place on this tour alongside selections from its predecessor Skeleton Tree, and Carnage, this year’s collaboration with fellow bad seed Warren Ellis.
And it’s very much the Nick and Warren show as the pair take to the expanse of the Royal Albert Hall and come alive as musical orators would in a symposium. Free of curtains and the framing of a stage, it’s open space very much made for Cave’s brand of performance.
The Cave we get tonight smiling and effusive, all waves and bonhonmie swagger before launching into “Spinning Song”, Ghosteen’s opening track, and kicking off a packed two-hour set that covers heavy chunks of the last ten years’ output. Ellis remains an assuring presence throughout – more than safe pair of hands and a foil to Cave’s animated evangelisicims, adding vocals to “Bright Horses”, and spots of virtuoso violin across the set. As they tear into the visceral title track from Carnage, “I love you Warren” rings out from the crowd. “I love him too,” affirms Cave. The stoic Ellis nods appreciatively.
Each song is bookened by a flourish of connection between the two Bad Seeds: a finger pointed to the air in unison, a count to four, a glance to assure the moment of finality. It’s often the most they communicate but the warmth that shoots between the pair of lifelong friends and collaborators is infectious.
The ornate “Ghosteen” remains a high point in a set largely centred around two incredible records but it’s still amazing to hear “Henry Lee” and “Into Your Arms” inside a room that was made for moments like this. With only Nicolas Congé (aka Johnny Hostile of Jehn and John fame) fleshing out the musicians on stage, it’s left to three backing vocalists – T Jae Cole, Janet Rasmus and Wendi Rose – to fill in the gaps, adding emotive weight to Cave’s gasps and sighs. The discordant, raw leans of Carnage sit comfortably alongside the (mostly) nuanced and ornate tracks of Ghosteen and Skeleton Tree – a happy marriage in the hands of Cave and Ellis.
The show is a marvellous snapshot of just where Cave is right now as both songwriter and performer: still equal parts fire, brimstone and heart, and framed by a complexity that continues to grow. Wrestling with demons and loss was never so affecting and so brilliantly done.