Conversations With Nick Cave, The Barbican, London, June 19, 2019

The Barbican hall is filling up with this evening’s crowd. About twenty people have already taken their seats on the actual stage, sitting behind the centrally placed grand piano. I don’t know if these were special tickets or friends of Nick Cave, but the setting adds a more intimate feeling to the concert, which I guess is the point.

Nick Cave, as always, immaculately dressed, enters the stage to deafening applause. He sits down at the piano and plays the first song of the evening, God Is In the House

In between the songs, Cave takes questions from the audience, and he is neither scared of going into personal details nor dismissing a question if he doesn’t want to talk about it. However, he answers most questions as well as he sees fit, whether about his son who died tragically a few years earlier, Brexit (about which he, as an Australian, has distanced and mixed emotions), and his songwriting process (‘going to the office’).

Many of Cave’s songs have religious and spiritual themes, and he tells the audience that Jesus, as a flawed human is one of the threads that runs through many of his songs. He says he doesn’t care if God exists or not, but it’s important to him to live as if there is a God, so there’s something (bigger than oneself) to reach for – as a human and as a songwriter. Cave is puzzled by the thought of songwriters who don’t believe in God. As he reflects, that’s a severe reduction of material to write about.

Many fans begin their questions with an introductory, ‘I only have a short question,’ after which the person starts asking a long-winded question which is often more about themselves than Cave. It can be nerve-wracking to get to ask your idol a question, and the eagerness to show off one’s insight and humour in front of Cave is tempting. But it gets irritating at times and even comical after a while. But quite frankly, don’t start your question with, ‘I only have a short question,’ when that’s not true. Just admit straight up that your query is longwinded and is more about yourself than the person you’re asking, so we’re all warned.

He sings a few beautiful covers, including Cosmic Dancer (T. Rex). Cave tells us an anecdote about one of his heroes, Leonard Cohen, and says that though he never spent time with Cohen, he received an email from him when his son died saying, ‘I’m with you, brother.’ Cohen may no longer be here, but his songs still are, and Cave does full justice to Cohen with his rendition of Avalanche.

It’s great to hear Nick Cave talk and give us his insights on various things, but the highlights for me are the songs – that wonderful, warm voice, singing those (often) dark, sinister songs. Like sweet honey mixed with bitter marmite, getting the balance between the light and the dark just right.

Nick Cave setlist
1. God Is In the House
2. West Country Girl
3. Cosmic Dancer (T. Rex cover)
4. Love Letter
5. Jubilee Street
6. Avalanche (Leonard Cohen cover)
7. The Mercy Seat
8. The Sorrowful Wife
9. Stagger Lee 
10. Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry
11. Palaces of Montezuma (Grinderman song) 
12. Into My Arms 
13. Skeleton Tree

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