••• SOTC: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis at Kings Theatre, March 24 •••
It was a holy musical moment. Nick Cave held the 3,000-seat-capacity Kings Theatre in a silent, edge-of-the-seat thrall as he whisper-sang, with decreasing volume and increasing intensity, “quiet as a mouse … / … God is in the house.”
The circa 1929 former movie palace was bathed in a churchlike hush as Cave intoned the “God Is in the House” lyrics “If we all hold hands and very quietly shout …”
The imprecation from a male audience member reached every nook and cranny. Nick Cave paused. The audience, shocked but with a vaguely guilty amused murmur, held its collective breath.
Cave, at the grand piano, ducked his head, was silent for a brief but seemingly interminable moment. Then he laughed.
The Australian-born singer’s often mordant humor even allowed him to dedicate the next song to the interloper, crying out, “This one’s for you, motherfucker!” as he launched into “Hand of God.”
Like James Bond meets Patti Smith, it’s hard to imagine Cave, with his lovely combination of suavity and gift for deep human connection, ever striking a false chord. And this show, his first of four in New York City, didn’t disappoint, even if he eschewed his most well-known song, “Red Right Hand.” His “Freebird,” if you will, came out in 1994, and enjoys resurgences thanks to covers (Iggy Pop, Snoop Dogg), and use in other media (the Scream movies and Peaky Blinders).
But there was no shortage of murder ballads and heartrending but perfectly wrought aural drama in a well-paced, 20-song set that included two encores. Warren Ellis, the multi-instrumentalist who has been with Cave since 1994, provided a perfect, almost shambolic foil to Cave’s commanding presence. Dramatic vocal layers and solos from the trio of backup singers, along with a multi-instrumentalist on, variously, keyboards, bass, and drums, meshed with a sometimes-ambient musicality to create an immersive experience.
The quirky intelligence and humor that spawns lyrical bon mots such as “We’ve bred all our kittens white / So you can see them in the night” is equally devastating when it comes to human foibles. Along with excoriating white hunters in “White Elephant,” Cave dedicated “Galleon Ship” to Ukraine, and had a kind remembrance of the late Hal Willner through a somewhat somnolent cover of “Cosmic Dancer,” from the Willner-conceived T. Rex tribute LP Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan & T. Rex.
Much of the set comprised tracks from 2021’s Carnage and 2019’s Ghosteen, the almost unbearably powerful and haunting LP written as Cave attempted to process the 2015 death of his teenage son Arthur. From set openers “Spinning Song” and “Bright Horses”—a soundtrack to sadness—the mood lifted at times, including the balcony audience singing along to, of course, “Balcony.” Cave doesn’t truck only in sadness; he’s equally as potent when it comes to hope, longing, intense romantic love, and humor. But no matter the musical or lyrical approach, Cave managed to create a mise-en-scène of the mind. Carnage’s title track, with its pervasive shimmering melancholy, is a soundscape as evocative and provocative as a David Lynch film, the very lyrics—“This song is like a rain cloud / That keeps circling overhead”—doing a better job of description than any critic could.
Cave, a rock ’n’ roll Rimbaud, brings all the feels. ❖
More:sounds of the city