Live Review: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis deliver emotional masterclass at Symphony Hall

The pair, currently on tour across the country, played songs from their recent album Carnage and 2019's Ghosteen.

Monday, 4th October 2021, 12:20 pm
Updated Monday, 4th October 2021, 12:22 pm
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis on stage at Birmingham's Symphony Hall. Photo by David Jackson.

“That’s about as happy as it gets,” jokes Nick Cave, shortly after he and long-time collaborator Warren Ellis end Night Raid, the third song of their set at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall.

The pair are currently mid-way through a UK tour to support the album Carnage which was released this year.

And, while this is billed as a performance by the pair to support the record, it’s the first real outing for many of the songs from Cave’s most recent Bad Seeds album Ghosteen which was released in 2019.

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Warren Ellis on stage at Birmingham's Symphony Hall. Photo by David Jackson.

In recent years, Nick Cave performances have captivated audiences, with songs of love, loss and fury and a stage presence capable of transforming the most soulless of arenas into the most intimate of settings.

Despite the splendour of Saturday night’s venue, this run of dates were never intended to replicate his 2017 masterclass with the Bad Seeds.

While on paper this was a more stripped back, simpler, performance, it still showed two collaborators at the peak of their power with a set that teetered between raw power and delicate beauty and emotion.

Cave, dressed in a customary dark pinstripe suit with partly buttoned white shirt and jet-black hair walked onstage to cheers shortly after Ellis had sat down, surrounded by amps, effect pedals and a plethora of instruments.

Nick Cave on stage at Birmingham's Symphony Hall. Photo by David Jackson.

The pair may be without the Bad Seeds for this run of dates, however, they were joined by multi-instrumentalist Johnny Hostile - mainly switching between bass and drums throughout the night - and backing vocalists – T Jae Cole, Janet Rasmus and Wendi Rose.

They opened with a trio of songs from Ghosteen. Spinning Song’s atmospheric synths swirled around the Symphony Hall as Cave paced around the stage, switching to piano for Bright Horses.

Our first taste of music from Carnage came in the form of its title track, but it was White Elephant which saw the beginning of a sonic shift with Cave bursting into life, prowling around the stage with a familiar menacing grace, arms flailing.

Cave’s wit was again on display when, ahead of Waiting For You, someone shouted for the song Albuquerque.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis on stage at Birmingham's Symphony Hall. Photo by David Jackson.

“We can do it. We don't do it, but we can do it,” he jests, continuing “This is for the person who wants a different song.” (They eventually play Albuquerque later in the set).

Similar shouts for songs and proclamations of love continued all night, sometimes acknowledged and sometimes towards Ellis whose partnership with Cave is unparalleled.

Before a cover of Cosmic Dancer, Cave informed the Birmingham audience, “Here's a T-Rex song, they’re band from f***ing years ago.”

The ‘one-two’ of 2011’s God Is In The House and Carnage opener Hand Of God in many ways perfectly highlighted the dichotomy of both Cave’s music and presence.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis on stage at Birmingham's Symphony Hall. Photo by David Jackson.

Sat behind the piano for the former - a delicate ballad - it was Ellis who received cheers and applause when his sweeping violin passages arrived, accompanied with flamboyant kicks into the air as he stood up.

Hand Of God saw Cave transformed, screaming its refrain while clasping the hand of a fan who had wandered from his seat to the front of the stage.

By the time set closer Balcony Man came around, other fans had left their seats, drawn to the front, arms outstretched and desperate to simply touch the hand of Cave, who with a preacher-esque stance and mannerisms reciprocated their requests.

While the bulk of Cave and Ellis’ set drew from recent material, the two encores treated fans to mid-1990s Bad Seeds classics Into My Arms from The Boatman’s Call and Henry Lee from Murder Ballads.

Together, Cave and Ellis are one of the most formidable partnerships in music, able to conjure moments of beauty, emotion and anger almost at will and remain utterly mesmerising to watch perform.

Details of remaining tour dates are available at nickcave.com/tour-dates

Nick Cave on stage at Birmingham's Symphony Hall. Photo by David Jackson.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis played:

Spinning Song

Bright Horses

Night Raid

Carnage

White Elephant

Ghosteen

Lavender Fields

Waiting for You

I Need You

Cosmic Dancer (T. Rex cover)

God Is In The House

Hand of God

Shattered Ground

Galleon Ship

Leviathan

Balcony Man

Encore:

Hollywood

Henry Lee

Albuquerque

Encore 2:

Into My Arms

Breathless

Ghosteen Speaks

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis on stage at Birmingham's Symphony Hall. Photo by David Jackson.