Grief, tragedy, salvation and love – Nick Cave and Warren Ellis delivered a stunning and cathartic performance of emotional depth.
Raw, honest and stark they explored dark places many artists wouldn’t tread – yet the overall feeling was one of serenity and beauty.
It was fitting that the first concert at The Music Hall since the coronavirus pandemic wiped out 18 months of live shows should be one of such power and grace.
There could be no better musician than Cave, who has found light from the darkest of places, to lead Aberdeen music fans into a brighter time with the first show in the venue since lockdown.
At least wearing face masks to exit The Music Hall at the end of the show allowed people to hide red, puffy eyes from crying.
Yes, people cried. I cried. It was impossible not to at the heart-breaking power of songs like I Need You, Ghosteen, Hollywood, Waiting for You and many, many more.
First chance to hear Carnage and Ghosteen
Cave and Ellis were touring recent release Carnage and also playing tracks from the 2019 album Ghosteen by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.
Recorded during lockdown Carnage is the first album released by Cave and Ellis as a duo.
This tour offers fans the first opportunity to hear songs from Ghosteen and Carnage live. Securing the duo is a major coup for The Music Hall.
Long term friends and collaborators since the mid nineties Cave, dressed immaculately in a black suit and white shirt, was mesmerising.
Multi-instrumentalist Ellis, a long term member of the Bad Seeds, sat sculpting delicate and fragile, at other times malevolent and brutal, soundscapes from a keyboard on his knee.
Throughout it was clear the respect and love they have for one another.
With his black jelly hair he crashed onto a stage in Aberdeen
Joined by multi-instrumentalist Johnny Hostile and backing singers Wendi Rose, T Jae Cole and Janet Ramus they began with Spinning Song from Ghosteen.
Cave dropped in a mention of the Granite City, singing: “The king was first a young prince, the prince was the best
“With his black jelly hair he crashed onto a stage in Aberdeen.”
Album title track Carnage was beautiful. They ripped through the cataclysmic White Elephant with Cave prowling the stage as Ellis hammered sonic squalls out of his keyboard.
Ghosteen was epic and shimmered as Cave tackled the inability, and unwillingness, to escape the past, singing : “And the past with its fierce undertow won’t ever let us go.”
Lavender Fields was stunning. Then Cave walked to the edge of the stage and pointed out someone in the first few rows.
“You’re that guy that sang Star Charmer,” he said, explaining the fan, called Oliver, had posted a cover of that Grinderman track online – and he loved it.
So much so Cave said they couldn’t perform Star Charmer in Aberdeen now because Oliver ‘sang it so beautifully we would only embarrass ourselves by playing it.
“My wife loves it and tells my that’s how I should sing”, he laughed.
Poignant, stripped back I Need You
During I Need You from Skeleton Key Cave sat at the piano bathed in a stark, white spotlight with the rest of the stage dark and silent.
Under that low lit glow he delivered a stripped down, stark performance, at the climax pleading “Just breathe, just breathe, just breathe” over and over until it became a primal howl. I cried.
They followed that with a cover of Cosmic Dancer by T-Rex.
Then an apocalyptic God Is In The House from No More Shall We Part – complete with a violin solo by Ellis which received a round of applause, and air kisses from Ellis back to the crowd.
The brutal maelstrom of Hand of God
Hand of God was a maelstrom – like Detroit techno pioneers Underground Resistance backing a gospel choir led by Robert Mitchum’s preacher from Night of the Hunter.
Yes – that good!
For all the intensity of emotion this was not depressing. It was uplifting and beautiful – and there was even some between song banter.
The powerful Balcony Man finished the set where Cave sang “And what doesn’t kill you just makes you crazier”.
They received a deserved standing ovation where everyone in the venue acknowledged the power of will become a legendary Aberdeen show.
Returning for an encore they performed a momentous and climactic Hollywood before Henry Lee from 1996 Murder Ballads that Cave called “an ancient song from the dark ages”.
It’s a long way to find peace of mind
Much as I love Ghosteen and predecessor Skeleton Key (2016) such is the rawness and grief at the heart of those records there was emotional cowardice on my part that I didn’t revisit those albums enough.
I didn’t want to open myself up to Cave’s pain and run the possibility of digging up my own. In The Music Hall I had to experience it – and I wanted to.
It was cathartic. In Hollywood in the encore, Cave sang: “Everybody’s losing someone.
“It’s a long way to find peace of mind.
“And I’m just waiting now, for peace to come.”
Everyone can relate to that. Cave makes us tackle difficult emotions, emerge through them and find light.
It is remarkable for a show to bring the possibility of catharsis, if only brief, to audience members.
On I Need You Cave sang: “Nothing really matters.”
Nick Cave matters. Warren Ellis matters. Their bravery and honesty prove everything matters.
A momentous performance of pain, tragedy, salvation … and love.