Edinburgh Playhouse


WELL, that was spellbinding.

THE cancellations and postponements caused by the pandemic shutdown may have led Nick Cave to ponder learning how to be part of a live band again, but this run of shows with his long-term collaborator, the multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, is evidence that his stage presence is as compelling as ever. Whether he is singing while seated at his piano, or standing a foot away from the lip of the stage, a manic, loose-limbed, sharp-suited preacher addressing the front rows, Cave is a mesmerising figure.

This was a raw, vivid, emotional, occasionally playful set. Most of the songs were taken from Cave's two most recent albums: Ghosteen, his latest project with the Bad Seeds, and Carnage, a record that he and Ellis put together during the lockdown. Ghosteen, the first album Cave wrote after the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015, was eerie and contemplative; the exhilarating Carnage is, as Cave has put it, “a brutal but very beautiful record embedded in a communal catastrophe”.

Supported by musician Johnny Hostile and backing singers Wendi Rose, T Jae Cole and Janet Ramus, Cave and Ellis opened with three songs from Ghosteen: Spinning Song, Bright Horses, and Night Raid ("dedicated to my wife"). It's only here that they turn to Carnage – the title track, and White Elephant, with its typically striking Cave line about a protester kneeling on a statue's neck ("the statue says I can't breathe/the protester says now you know how it feels/and kicks it into the sea").

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Cave is at the piano for two of his most heartfelt songs: Waiting for You, which stirs an emotional response in some audience members; and I Need You, the latter more insistent here than it was on record, and ending with Cave intoning over and over, in a hoarse whisper, "Just breathe, just breathe, just breathe....".

There's an unexpected detour into T Rex's 1971 hit, Cosmic Dancer ("one of my favourite English bands", Cave says), with Ellis providing a solo on electric violin. A thrilling Hand of God, from Carnage, has Cave cavorting across the stage, Ellis urging him on, hands and legs pumping. Part of the joy of the concert is watching the near-telepathic relationship between the two musicians, whose collaboration now stretches across some 16 albums.

Cave's playful nature asserts itself several times as he banters with the audience (even if he does struggle to make out the Scottish accent), and makes one fan's evening by signing his vinyl copy of Carnage.

The show ends with Balcony Man, which Cave dedicates to the fans in the Playhouse balcony. There are several encores: an extraordinary Hollywood, from Ghosteen; Henry Lee, from the great 1996 Bad Seeds album, Murder Ballads, and Into My Arms. A magnificent concert. Welcome back, Nick.