By Alex Lamont
A little timeline of events first. In December 2019 fresh-into-uni Alex was gifted tickets to see Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds at the Manchester Arena, one of the greatest presents ever received. When the probability of the show’s cancellation was drastically increased early the following year, all excitement was briefly written off. The release of the spellbinding, stripped back Idiot Prayer, a collection of solo performed piano backed renditions of his career highlights was not only a reminder that the performance had not yet been outright cancelled, but that I would be seeing perhaps the single greatest performer of the past four decades in person.
Then came the dreaded news earlier this year, that the arena tour had been cancelled, and that I had been left gift-less on my 19th Christmas.
News that Nick Cave and Warren Ellis would be touring their album Carnage in more intimately sized theatres came out of the blue, and myself and my parents jumped at the opportunity to catch the show at the Regent Theatre in Stoke. (Stoke???) What we were treated to arguably superseded the phantom Bad Seeds performance.
Off the bat, this was not a performance designed for the distant admirer of Cave’s music, rather the obsessive collector of his back catalogue. Across the two hour set, seven of the twenty-one songs landed on Carnage, essentially a performance of the full album, interrupted by a handful from Ghosteen and a sprinkle of slower tracks from across his rich wealth of material. Despite the gradual diminuendo of Nick Cave’s output since Push The Sky Away, the visceral gut punches of his early punkier days is far from absent in his modern arsenal.
White Elephant and Hand of God are utterly hypnotising breakaways from the emotional patches surrounding them, a frenzy of colourful lights and barking backing singers provide the awakening jolt of life precisely on cue, like electricity from the brooding Frankenstein’s monster of a frontman. Warren Ellis controls the pace from his endless supply of instruments on the right of the stage, opposite his faithful collaborator.
My personal taste has always leant itself to the deepest despair Nick Cave can muster, which has allowed me to thoroughly enjoy his previous three albums. Three songs left me on the verge of tears through the remarkable set. Bright Horses essentially kicks off the performance, with Ellis’s perfect falsetto’s accompanying Cave’s broken, deeper meander, ending with Cave on his A-game with a touching piano fadeout. The haunting I Need You from Skeleton Tree, a personal favourite of mine, captures every ounce of emotion from the studio version and somehow builds upon it, Cave’s voice cracking into an intense snarl with the repetition of the grief laden mantra ‘Nothing really matters’. Ghosteen’s gorgeous exploration of grief following the tragic death of his son Arthur, Waiting For You, is pure heartbreak, Cave himself stating at its conclusion that it may have been the first time making it through without tears of his own.
Cave, Ellis, and the rest of their stunning contributors have proven that the ageing rockstar is not an unavoidable stop on the journey of their career, as they become more and more incredible with every special moment they continue to treat us to. They are a group of performers who must be treasured for as long as they live and beyond.