Photography: John Johnson / @john.johno

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

Liverpool Philharmonic 27/9/21

After the release of 2019’s Ghosteen, an album aching to be performed, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds had to cancel their tour for obvious reasons. Now, after the release of this year’s Carnage, the first non-soundtrack album credited to NICK CAVE & WARREN ELLIS, the pair’s acolytes finally get to pay homage to them in this suitably illustrious setting.

Bounding onto the stage to a rapturous welcome they open with a haunting rendition of Spinning Song. The track gradually unfurls with Ellis’ sparse and restrained synth melodies, a signature of the pair’s recent work, providing a delicate baseline for Cave’s pained, reflective lyricism. His potent, baritone delivery is complimented beautifully by the trio of backing singers Wendi Rose, T. Jae Cole and Janet Remus, and the stripped-back format suits the track perfectly.

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White Elephant is ferociously delivered taking the set into more frenetic territory. The repetitive, sleazy groove of Ellis’ synth is backed up powerfully by drummer Johnny Hostile and Cave prowls the stage with characteristic swagger almost spitting the words at the audience with heat and bile. Though he delivers each and every word of these dark and abstract pieces with absolute conviction Cave still constantly injects the performance with moments of his droll humour. His command of the crowd is quite frankly mesmerising and at times the performance resembles that of a revivalist preacher whipping his followers into a state of religious frenzy.

[Cave’s] command of the crowd is quite frankly mesmerising and at times the performance resembles that of a revivalist preacher whipping his followers into a state of religious frenzy.

Midway through the set Cave performs a number of tracks alone at the piano of which Waiting For You is perhaps the most moving. The poignancy of this ballad is heightened by Cave’s voice which cracks slightly as he strains for the higher notes. Written shortly after the loss of Cave’s son the refrain ‘waiting for you to return’ is sung with such emotional weight that there are many in the audience who are brought to tears.

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After this pared back interlude an electrifying performance of Hand of God sees most of the crowd now on their feet. With the stage drenched in red light there is an impression of being wrenched from the celestial into the infernal. Ellis, who has been seated throughout, remains so but appears almost possessed as he shakes wildly and thrusts his fists upwards. Cave, appearing to lose all restraint, shrieks violently into his microphone pushing furiously towards an intense crescendo before the instrumentation falls away and he recedes into a slowly dying whisper.

After two and half hours the set finally draws to a close, but the group returns for two encores. Cave explains that they would feel cursed if they left without performing Ghosteen Speaks and there are also renditions of Albuquerque and Henry Lee. Even after this there is a sense that nobody is yet ready for it to end. Sometimes there are nights when things just seem to be in perfect harmony. When the venue, the circumstances and the performer flow together to produce something truly memorable. Tonight is one of those nights.

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