Nick Cave at the Olympia. Too good to be true?
Liverpool’s most beautiful example of faded Victorian glamour playing host to the Gothic Prince himself, it’s a match made in heaven. Had this been any ordinary gig, it would have been wonderful enough, but this night, part of his Conversations with Nick Cave Tour was as special as a night can be.
Nick is in the process of touring the world with this show, a mixture of intimate conversation with his audience and his most adored songs, stripped to their bare bones. He’s left the Bad Seeds at home and just brought the piano.
The most eclectic audience I have seen in a long time gather tonight, women dressed to the nines in 1940s ball gowns, hordes of bearded men and the odd small child, all here tonight to get to know Nick a little better.
The lights dim as a recording of Nick Cave’s Steve McQueen fills the air. Tables and chairs form the backdrop of the otherwise sparse stage where a couple of dozen lucky fans sit, glasses in hand awaiting their idol.
When Nick appears he is draped in his trademark snakefit suit with dress shoes and waistcoat, shirt open at the collar. The man is smooth.
He opens with a brooding “God is in the House” (irony), and it’s hard to imagine anyone not transfixed. His voice is as rich as Sinatra and his lyrics way more interesting.
Nick explains how the night is going to work and immediately the questions begin. Even the most inane requests are treated respectfully as Nick provides extensive answers and shows genuine interest in the stories that many feel compelled to tell, often in great detail.
It is inevitable that dialogue will become dark and many tonight want to discuss the death of Nick’s son and relate his grief to their own experiences. This is inevitable. Nick corrects an audience member at one point pointing out that the show is not about grief, it’s about anything anyone cares to ask. It does feel like a therapy group at times but that’s ok.
Songs appear like magic, not from a setlist but from inspiration drawn from questions. A conversation about Leonard Cohen seamlessly leads to a chilling version of “Avalanche”, similarly a question about the inclusion of Miley Cyrus in his lyrics leads to “Higgs Bosun Blues” with its imagery of a Hannah Montana Waxwork floating in an LA pool.
These exotic images feel like they are taken from Nick’s everyday exotic life, but the illusion is shattered as he explains his day as a nine to fiver at the office. He treats it like any other job, “Put on my suit, kiss my wife, sit at my desk”. It may ruin the idea of Nick as this otherworldly figure but draws us closer to him as a human being.
He denies being a depressive person as his music may suggest (more subvertly optimistic) and his spiel veers very close to stand up, almost in defiance of this stereotype. His story of writing an unrealised script for Gladiator 2 at the insistence of Russel Crowe is as close to a routine as you could want. Even his bittersweet tale of writing “Nobody’s Baby Now” for his hero Johnny Cash has a comic coda as he admits “It’s a great song, Fuck Johnny Cash I’m keeping it”. He then performs it and it is great.
There are a few crowd pleasers thrown in to an almost career spanning set, “Jubilee Street” from the majestic Push the Sky Away album and the heartbreaking “Into My Arms” are highlights. The absence of The Bad Seeds urges us to listen even more carefully to Nick’s lyrics which are more often than not genius.
What is incredible tonight is how Nick traverses with such ease from discussing grief and bereavement to hearty comedy. This being Liverpool he has to work hard to keep up with the expected banter and almost surreal questioning. During the set he is given a gift, asked to write on a woman so she can have it tattooed and he is cajoled into allowing a fan from Brussels to sit next to him on his stool as he performs “Love Letter“, another track from 2001’s No More Shall We Part. She loves it and so does Nick, he’s a charmer.
Three hours fly by and the night inevitably has to end somewhere. He feels bad about the obscenity-soaked “Stagger Lee“, aware of the kids in the audience but any fears are soon gone as he screams this most violent murder ballad into the night. In complete contrast he finishes with the devasting “Skeleton Key”, the title track from his most personal album to date.
It was a beautiful night, every emotion ticked and Nick was a perfect host. Not only where his songs stripped down but himself also, less the swaggering rock star we expect but just a really nice guy with a regular office job.
Words by Del Pike.