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Nick Cave dares to just be himself at his Auditorium concert


A fiery and physical performer, Nick Cave is famous for thrashing around on stage and taking on the persona of fire and brimstone preacher, suspected outlaw, lecherous scoundrel, and demented bandleader. To a packed Auditorium Theater on Friday, the singer-songwriter renounced those roles and took on an equally daring disguise: that of a tortured composer sitting at the piano, unafraid to strip away and probe the boundaries of vulnerability, devotion and mourning.

Accompanied by Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood on most of the songs, Cave played as if he were faithful to the lyrics of one of his old compositions, “Brompton Oratory”. The stunning 130-minute set represented a beauty that is difficult to describe and endure, aurally and emotionally. Cave dredged up the remnants of relationships when they broke down, suffered neglect, or suffered a worse fate. Except for a few instances where he stood up to show his appreciation, he remained seated and mingled with the crowd, channeling the intimacy he shared into the music.

Cave gave the impression that he involved the audience in a special creative process with his elegant appearance, which created a familiar figure with his black suit, white shirt, black tie, and jet black hair tied behind his head and covering his neck. He spoke of his desire to “get to the soul” of the songs, and said that the unadorned versions reflected the way the songs were first presented to his band, the Bad Seeds.

Cave evolved from underground post-punk raconteur with a penchant for manic adventures and raucous chaos in the early ’80s to a prolific songwriter who claims one of the most vital catalogs of the last four decades. While many artists slow down their output as they age, the 66-year-old Australian native seems immune to stagnation and is driven by the urge to express himself more frequently and through multiple mediums.

The early years of his career and his first band are the subject of a new documentary (“Mutiny in Heaven: The Birthday Party”), now in theaters nationwide. Last year’s “I Know This Much Is True” chronicled Cave’s relationship with longtime collaborator Warren Ellis, who joined the singer at the Auditorium Theater in March 2022. Cave, along with Ellis, has released eight soundtrack scores since the film’s inception. Recent movies released on Netflix in 2016 include “Blonde” and “Dahmer”.

Praised by critics and peers alike, Cave’s ink-stained debut extends beyond the music world. He wrote numerous books, including a children’s book that he illustrated. She published collections of photographs, prints of drawings, and reproductions of notebook pages. Her sketches and artworks adorn jewelry, glazed tiles, prayer cards, wallpapers and tableware. To avoid seeming self-obsessed, Cave maintains an online Q&A exchange (www.theredhandfiles.com) with his fans and responds to all kinds of topics.

The singer liberally embraced that social ethos on Friday, dedicating a pair of songs to attendees in response to letters requesting it. During the encore, Cave welcomed suggestions, going so far as to remember the chords to the despairing “People Ain’t No Good” and play it for the first time in years. She chatted with the crowd, occasionally endured inane shouting that intruded on softer moments, and shook hands with fans in the front row after the mocking finale, “God Is in the House,” ended.

Despite all the pleasant jokes, the focus was almost entirely on songs that carry serious overtones and considerable weight. Cave’s approach to the piano – largely free of decorative fills, focused on simple but highly intense melodies – and Greenwood’s spare lower notes enhanced the seriousness. To further drive the dramatic action and build tension, Cave varied the tempo, rhythm, and punching force of the keys and used pregnant pauses to great effect.

He also utilized the expansive dynamics of his powerful baritone to frighten, comfort, grieve, contemplate and plead. Cave was stretching out syllables, hissing his observations, whispering his doubts, moaning, singing choruses, humming lullabies. Inspired by the gospel, he turned “O Children” into an exciting action, pitting hope against reality while also implying that the commandments to rejoice came too late. The nightmarish “Daddy Won’t Leave You Henry” and the unrepentant “Mercy Seat” spit out lyrics with a menacing violence that matched the narratives.

Evil involving bloodshed and betrayal never seemed far away – this was a Cave concert, after all – yet the singer’s voice was less concerned with murder and storm than with a deep passion linked to romance, love and longing. The magnificent “Galleon Ship” and “Into My Arms” are subdued odes to a pull so strong that the hero begins to doubt his atheism and finds salvation and peace. Otherwise, the sought-after features proved difficult to find. As clear-eyed salvation does.

The majority of the ballads, and what he calls a “strange wedding song” (“And We Shall Be Parted No More”), confronted uncertainty, loneliness, or loss. Cave reveled in their mysteries, uncovering the carnage, observing the traumatic waves of despair that befell the abandoned.

The mournful “I Need You” questioned whether anything mattered and ended with the singer repeating the phrase “just breathe” over and over as if performing CPR. “Black Hair” emerged as a somber mantra, its precious sentiments eventually swallowed in a painful departure. Even the welcoming warmth of “Ship Song,” a graceful call to let go of inhibitions and take risks, is punctured by inevitable exodus.

Aside from making the hilariously over-the-top promises detailed in the new version of Grinderman’s song “Palaces of Montezuma,” what other advice can Cave offer to the hopeless and distressed?

“Keep moving forward,” Cave sang; His tone reflected determination to surrender rather than relaxed triumph. “Put the sky away.”

Bob Gendron is a freelance critic.

Song list of 29 September Auditorium Theatre:

“The Girl in Amber”

“Higgs Boson Blues”

“Jesus of the Moon”

“Gallion Ship”


“O Children”

“I need you”

“Waiting for you”

“Daddy Won’t Leave You Henry”

“Balcony Man”


“Mercy Seat”

“Black hair”

“(Are You) The One I’ve Been Waiting For? “

“Crying Song”

“Into my arms”

“Jubilee Street”

“Take the Sky Away”


“Ship Song”

“And We Won’t Be Separated Anymore”

“Cosmic Dancer” (T. Rex cover)

“Montezuma Palaces”

“People Are Not Good”

“Love letter”

“Stranger Than Kindness”

“God is in the House”


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