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An Emotionally Charged Night with Nick Cave and Colin Greenwood in Sydney


Nick Cave and Colin Greenwood on stage at the State Theatre in Sydney
Photo by Sacha Lecca

NICK CAVE WITH COLIN GREENWOOD

State Theatre, Sydney

Tuesday, April 30 2024


IN LOW LIGHT THAT FADED LOWER and lower until it was nothing at all, until it was somehow darker than dark, the voice repeated a mantra or a plea, “just breathe just breathe just breathe just breathe”.


Good god, we were holding our breath in response, as if unsure there was an end or a response to this. Or maybe we knew what that response was and didn’t want to know. “Just breathe just breathe just breathe just breathe just breathe.” You asking or telling?


It had been a distraught song from the start, just held together enough to present as in control, if you didn’t look too closely. But shorn of even the minimal, ambient setting the Bad Seeds provided on Skeleton Tree, without even the contribution of this tour’s bass-playing collaborator, Colin Greenwood, in its final minute I Need You closed the circle on itself as an exhalation of desperation.


In its wake came a companion piece of crushed but not destroyed hope, Waiting For You, which also rested on nothing more than voice and piano. Which turned on a single line mid-song, “sometimes a little bit of faith can go a long, long way”. Which clung to the idea of the return because the alternative was to drift away completely, as tempting and relieving as that might be.


Oooft. This was only two songs among 24, half an hour into what would be a two-hour show. More of this might be too much.


Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. Not because Cave was amusing and entertaining between songs (and occasionally within songs), though he was. Nor because he avoided more of these gut punches – as graceful and gracious as Carnage is, it ached to the bone when he sang “I always seem to be saying goodbye”; a tender Into My Arms, with surprisingly not-annoying gentle contributions from the audience, packed a whole lot of subtext into the whispered “alright” just before each chorus; O Children, unleavened by the original children’s voices, looked on grimly; the “series of spiritual catastrophes” within Higgs Boson Blues accumulated a heaviness that can’t be lifted off by science, yellow patent leather shoes, or Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana references – but because every texture mattered.


In that endeavour Cave was superbly partnered by Greenwood, the Radiohead bassist bringing a cool funkiness alongside which Cave could stroll in Jesus Of The Moon and serenity through the meditation of Galleon Ship, subtly moving between a thick jazz tone, an inquisitive touch and moments of assertiveness in Higgs Boson Blues, and being the measured observer who dipped in and out of close involvement through Are You The One I’ve Been Waiting For? He added something at every stage, clearly enamoured being a party to this, even shadowplaying in the background to the piano-only Into My Arms.


Having Greenwood reaffirmed what Cave said that in one way these shows were an attempt to reduce songs “back down to their essence”, as they may have been when he first presented them to the Bad Seeds. A way to unlock the secrets he felt were inside them. Maybe that’s what a stripped away Jubilee Street (“This song is kind of fucked up, fucked up with this kind of transcendent ending … That’s what I do.”) came to reveal.


But here too was a chance to resurrect or recreate songs the Bad Seeds had rejected or evolved away from.


So Cave paired one of those rejects, Give Us A Kiss – set in Wangaratta with the young Nicholas Cave experiencing his first infatuation in a needy, creepy but naïvely so manner – with Nobody’s Baby Now, a kind of adult version of that same obsession that should feel more disturbing but somehow stayed within the realm of the forgiven.


And he took Rowland Howard’s Shivers – probably the first Cave vocal many of his older fans would have heard – and performed it almost as anti-singing, bordering on diffidence and denying feeling, like the song’s central character himself stepping towards and away from open emotion. Everything remained ambiguous.


In retrospect we probably should have seen that coming. Cave opened the show with Girl In Amber, a song in part about the struggle between moving on and inertia, between memory you hold to and promise you reach for, where the piano held to now and the bass, a just-below-the-surface presence, seemed poised to inch away.


It hurt and it soothed. It found solace and it let go of it. It said “The song, the song it spins, the song, it spins, it spins no more.”

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