I’d seen him once before, playing with The Bad Seeds at Shepherd’s Bush Empire back in May 1994, with a pair of Aussie friends.
He’s someone I’ve followed fairly closely over the years, first getting tapes of The Birthday Party’s output while still in school, before replacing these with CDs in the very early 1990’s.
Moving onto his ‘solo’ career, I picked up 1990’s The Good Son the following year, somehow missing Henry’s Dream until 2017, but was back in real time for Let Love In in 1994 and The Boatman’s Call three years later.
1998 brought me his The Best Of and 1986’s covers album Kicking Against The Pricks, before I returned to contemporary releases with No More Shall We Part in 2001 and Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus three years later.
I acquired the B-Sides & Rarities compilation when it was put out in 2005, and Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! as it came out three years later, and then the two Grinderman albums a little after they were released.
I also bought Push The Sky Away and Skeleton Tree as they were issued earlier this decade, with my only return to the archive being for the debut album From Her To Eternity earlier this year.
So, at the time of the show I was still missing 1986’s Your Funeral… My Trial, Tender Prey from two years later, 1996’s Murder Ballads (rectified subsequently to this gig) and Nocturama from 2003, as I have a copy of The Firstborn Is Dead from 1985 on tape.
This show was part of a tour off-shooting from Nick’s The Red Hand Files website, where he invites people to ask him any question at all, which he then answers. Many of these get quite deep, with the loss of his teenage son in a tragic accident in 2015 affecting many fans.
The scene was set with the spoken word Steve McQueen from the One More Time With Feeling film before Cave came out onto the stage, immediately sitting down at the piano to perform God Is In The House from No More Shall We Part.
Over the course of the evening, he played thirteen songs, taken from eleven different albums, so a wide-ranging set.
After the opening song, he explained the premise of the evening, before performing The Weeping Song.
People were roaming the audience with microphones and red “light sabres” to enable punters to ask their questions, as well as making them identifiable by Nick.
The first batch set the tone of the evening, with questions touching on the death of his father, his relationship with his wife, and his song-writing technique. The question about the latter initially really confused him, as a young boy asked him about “violet springs”, which appeared to refer to the source of inspiration for writing songs.
Discussion of his own “dis-ease” with life was linked to his love of Leonard Cohen, and specifically his third album Songs Of Love And Hate from 1971 which he first heard as an impressionable youth.
He then played its opening cut Avalanche, which was also the first track on Cave’s debut solo album.
After the classic The Mercy Seat, he faced more questions about God and grieving, before one from a physicist about the Higgs boson prompted Nick Cave to reveal a general lack of interest in physics, although he then performed the song named after this so-called God particle.
He revealed that he had met his second wife Susie at a modelling show, also being happy to receive a gift from the person whose question led to that information, who had to descend from the Upper Balcony (where I too was sat) to pass it on to him.
Later, someone else from the Upper Balcony received a list of ten books that are important to him, although he only revealed one of these (Herman Melville’s Moby Dick) to the rest of the audience.
His finest story was undoubtedly the one about being asked by Russell Crowe to pen the screenplay for a Gladiator sequel, which he apparently entitled Gladiator 2: Christ Killer, with Crowe’s character returning from limbo to try to murder the son of God. Surprisingly, this has yet to be filmed.
He revealed that his favourite animal is a koala, though I’m not sure if that was a joke or not. He also suggested that his ‘collars and cuffs’ don’t match, confessing that he’s been dyeing his hair black ever since a doomed attempt at wooing a woman back in his youth.
After Into My Arms, the next song he performed was Love Letter from No More Shall We Part, but this time he was accompanied at the piano (in a purely observational role) by a Belgian woman who had requested such a position in her ‘question’ to him!
A mini-sales pitch for Transcendental Meditation, in which he made his only real reference to being in Liverpool (when he recalled it was practised by The Beatles), was followed by the remarkably sweary Stagger Lee, an intense track that inspired me to order Murder Ballads pretty much as soon as I got home.
The last track of the night was the title cut off his last album, Skeleton Tree, with its longing lyrics perhaps partly inspired by his son’s death.
He inevitably got a standing ovation at what was seemingly his first show in the city since appearing at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in November 1999.
It had been an intriguing, entertaining and moving evening that was a nice change from the usual gig, reinvigorating my love for the man. Or at least his music.
It was a long hike back to the train station – normally I drive to the Olympia, but our car was at the garage, so I got plenty of exercise to and from the venue.
I wore my red The Triffids t-shirt, in honour of their shared somewhat off-the-beaten-track Aussie roots. Very sadly, I didn’t spot a single other band tee in the crowd, although I didn’t really get all that good a look.
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Here is a most of the music from the show on Spotify: