When multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, Nick Cave’s longtime – and long-bearded – collaborator, took the stage at Moody Theatre, home of Austin City Limits, last Sunday, he immediately began playing some ethereal sounds on a dinky keyboard, setting the feel for what would come. The crowd erupted when Cave emerged. He pointed to someone in the audience and said, “You fucking behave yourself tonight.” The crowd laughed. Apparently, the audience at the Moody Theatre show the previous night had acted up.
The baritone-voiced Aussie, clad in a suit and sporting his trademark combed-back jet-black hair, opened with “Spinning Song,” the opener from Ghosteen, his acclaimed 2019 album with his backing band The Bad Seeds. When the song ended, someone yelled, “I love you!” to which Cave, 64, replied, “I love you, too, you have no idea.”
On the second song “Bright Horses” the three soulful backup singers, wearing glittery gowns, provided beautiful harmonies as they would all night. Cave, who was also in fine voice, finished the song at the piano. An emotive, somewhat theatrical performer, Cave would alternate from tickling the ivories and crooning to prancing about and intensely singing directly to audience members near the stage. Rounding out the six-piece group was a touring musician who played bass, drums, and keys/synths.
When introducing “Carnage,” the title track from the 2021 collaborative album with Ellis, Cave said, “This song is amazing. I don’t know what else to say about it, but it’s a good one.”
For a man with so many gloomy, serious songs, he sure has a sense of humor.
“You’re very well behaved,” he said. “Last night, they were fucking animals!” before letting out a “Yee-haw!!!”
“That’s it for my Texas jokes,” he said.
A highlight was Cave’s cover of T. Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer,” a version featured on the 2021 all-star tribute album, AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T. Rex. Ellis broke out the violin, wowing the crowd with his unique style and tone. I wish Ellis had played more violin, but the set was heavy on the newer, largely mellow material that’s marked by atmospheric keyboard sounds.
“God Is In the House,” a cut from Cave’s 2001 record, No More Shall We Part, got a lively response. For “Hand of God,” the stage lights turned red, and in came a throbbing synth line and thunderous drumming, building to a crescendo of Cave repeating “Hand of God!” It was maybe the most ominous song of the set, which is saying a lot.
Cave asked the audience in the balcony, which is where I was sitting, to “go crazy” whenever he sang the “Balcony” lyric in the song “Balcony Man,” another tune from Carnage. We happily obliged.
All in all, Cave put on an engaging show, but I was disappointed in the setlist. Perhaps this outs me as a casual Cave fan, but I really wanted to hear more of the ‘80s and ‘90s classics like “Tupelo,” “Mercy Seat,” “Do You Love Me?” and “Red Right Hand.” It would have been nice to hear more than just one from Murder Ballads, too, although the lovely “Henry Lee” with backup singer Wendi Rose taking PJ Harvey’s part was a clear standout. “Into My Arms,” one of Cave’s best-known songs, during the first encore was also gorgeous.
While I understand Cave wanted a more stripped-down set, I think some of the songs could have benefited from the fuller – and, at times, abrasive – sound of The Bad Seeds. That said, Cave was charismatic and magnetic. He’s a consummate performer who commands your attention at all times. So, if you’re thinking of seeing Cave on this tour, don’t go in expecting any of the old stuff. I’d recommend you familiarize yourself with the new albums, namely Carnage and Ghosteen. For fans of latter-day Cave and his work with Ellis, the show is absolutely a must-see.
1. Spinning Song
2. Bright Horses
3. Night Raid
5. White Elephant
7. Lavender Fields
8. Waiting for You
9. I Need You
10. Cosmic Dancer
11. God Is in the House
12. Hand of God
13. Shattered Ground
14. Galleon Ship
16. Balcony Man
18. Henry Lee
19. Jubilee Street
20. Watching Alice
21. Into My Arms
22. Girl in Amber
23. Ghosteen Speaks
Here’s Cave performing “Jubilee Street” for Austin City Limits in 2014:
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – Remaining Tour Dates
March 9 – Los Angeles, CA @ Shrine Auditorium
March 13 – Oakland, CA @ Oakland Paramount Theatre of the Arts
March 14 – Oakland, CA @ Oakland Paramount Theatre of the Arts
March 17 – Seattle, WA @ Paramount Theatre
March 20 – Chicago, IL @ Auditorium Theatre
March 22 – Boston, MA @ Boch Center – Wang Theatre
March 24 – Brooklyn, NY @ Kings Theatre
March 25 – Brooklyn, NY @ Kings Theatre
March 27 – New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
March 28 – New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
March 31 – Toronto, ON @ Massey Hall
April 2 – Montreal, QC @ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier
April 3 – Montreal, QC @ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier