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Music review An ode to personal grief has global resonance

Nick Cave And Warren Ellis
Royal Albert Hall

NICK CAVE and the bad seed Warren Ellis are quite the double act.

A towering stage presence, Cave commands attention as he strides across the stage in his trademark black suit and white shirt, like an unwritten member of the Addams family, jumping back and forth from a grand piano while variously praising and insulting the audience as he goes.

Ellis, wizard-like, is happy to sit conjuring magic from his synthesizer — and violin.

Both have graced the world with two remarkable albums, Ghosteen and Carnage, which they are here to showcase in all their glory.

Not for the faint of heart, Ghosteen is a titan of an album. A record of grief, inspired and recorded following the tragic death of Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur who fell from a cliff after taking LSD.

Bleak yet beautiful, the music has been co-composed and co-produced by Ellis and sees Cave at a lyrical and creative high point.

Released at the end of 2019, Cave was forced to cancel the Ghosteen tour following the global pandemic.

Performed now, it takes on a whole new meaning, a collective grief of a world still coming to terms with a catastrophe that has killed millions.

From the moment Spinning Song and Bright Horses open this epic two-hour set, it’s clear that Cave’s ode to his son will be the dominant force.

Sitting at the piano under an array of spotlights, the pain and pathos of Waiting For You is almost palpable as it resonates across the cavernous Royal Albert Hall.

Joined onstage by musician Johnny Hostile and three backing singers, Wendi Rose, T Jae Cole and Janet Ramus, nine songs are performed from Ghosteen and six from Carnage, the pair’s first album as a duo outside of film scores.

Musically the two albums generally marry well. Cave stands at front of stage with a brooding intensity as he stares into the crowd and pelts out the lyrics of Carnage’s mournful Shattered Ground, which could quite easily be straight from Ghosteen: “Only you are beautiful, only you are true, I don’t care what they’re saying, they can scream their fucking faces blue … again.”

Likewise, Carnage’s title track with the line “it’s only love, with a little bit of rain, and I hope to see you again” is pure Ghosteen with its haunting production and choir.

However the noisier White Elephant and the Swans-esque Hand Of God, while still a highlight on Carnage, seem out of place performed alongside the deeply personal Ghosteen.

Aside from a feel-good cover of T-Rex’s Cosmic Dancer and a crowd-pleasing Henry Lee in one of the two encores, there’s not much of a reprieve from the relentless doom and gloom.

Cave performs one from Skeleton Tree, I Need You, which also happens to be the most heart-rending off that release and therefore aptly placed.

He powerfully closes the song by repeatedly singing “just breathe” as if running short of breath on a hospital bed.

But then again, this is Nick Cave. Nobody was expecting sunshine and rainbows. And as one punter shouts at the end of the set: “Very, very good.”

WILL STONE

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