Review: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis at the Kings Theatre


William Burns, Faculty Advisor, Compass News

The title “legend” is thrown around so much these days that I am expecting soon to read about Pete Davidson’s “legendary” tattoos. A legend is someone that will leave behind a legacy of greatness, of glory, and of achievement that goes beyond the known expectations of human beings. Legends touch lives and lives too come through their chosen medium; they take risks, sacrificing aspects of themselves, driven to reach the heights of what it means to be exemplary and then exceed those boundaries into the unknown. A legend eclipses mundane reality and is remembered more as a myth than an actuality. Legends are creators of beauty and truth in a world that doesn’t value or even understand the kinds of beauty and truth legends impart to us. Most legends aren’t identified as such until they have shuffled off this mortal coil, often in obscurity. For over forty years, Nick Cave has been steadily building his case for legendary status through his art and the way he lives his life. Singer, songwriter, poet, author, composer, and screenwriter, Cave has consistently brought an aesthetic and personal intensity to every one of his projects, throwing himself into his obsessions with death, loss, transcendence, and love. Beginning with the psychotic noise of The Birthday Party, Cave confronted audiences with unhinged characters, Biblical tales of bloody vengeance, and sounds that could drag a listener to hell and back. When The Birthday Party gloriously crashed and burned, Cave started The Bad Seeds from the ashes and continued his journey into and through the heart of darkness, modernizing the Delta blues into a howling, stomping, frenzied embrace of existential angst, raw passion, and the search for salvation. Time mellows even notorious rebels and, along with collaborator Warren Ellis, Cave began to explore quieter, more introspective songs of tenderness and devotion while also expanded his oeuvre into the field of soundtracks. Cave and Ellis scored several films such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), The Road (2009), and West of Memphis (2012) showcasing the duo’s sense of atmosphere and dramatic tension. Cave and Ellis took an extended pandemic inflicted vacation from The Bad Seeds and created a new album Carnage in 2021, and it is in support of this album and the last Bad Seeds album Ghosteen (2019) that sees the two men touring the post-plague United States in 2022.

On Flannery O’Connor’s birthday (a long time Southern Gothic influence on Nick’s lyrics and his 1989 novel And the Ass Saw the Angel), Cave and Ellis took to the stage at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn. Accompanying Cave and Ellis were three backup singers and a touring musician who played bass, drums, and a lap top that provided backing tracks. This stripped-down arrangement perfectly complimented the songs, almost entirely drawn from Carnage and Ghosteen. Opening with “Spinning Song,” the first track on Ghosteen, Cave continued his use of Elvis as a metaphor for kingly ascendancy, which started all the way back in 1985 with the raging “Tupelo.” Ellis, looking like a hillbilly Gandalf, played synthesizer and sawed at his violin like a mad fiddler as Wendi Rose and the backup singers provided exquisite harmonies to Cave’s brooding baritone. T. Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer” fit perfectly with the other joyous exultations, and yet the almost evangelical fervor was leavened with moments of destitution and deprivation in “Shattered Ground,” “Carnage” (which namechecks Ms. O’Connor), and especially during the song “Ghosteen,” written in tribute to Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur who died in a tragic accident. The healing power of music elevated not only Cave and his musicians, but the entire crowd as well as performances of “Hand of God,” “Lavender Fields,” “Waiting for You,” and “God is in the House” transformed the Kings Theatre into The Church of Immaculate Sound: Cave’s euphonious preaching held his devotees entirely in his grasp. The crowd demanded two sets of encores, and the first saw Cave return to the psychodramas of yesteryear with the feral “Hollywood” and the menacing “Henry Lee,” but the second encore left the audience with odes to adoration, connection, and hope as Cave and Ellis uplifted all with vigorous versions of “Into My Arms,” “Jubilee Street,” and the closing hymn-like “Ghosteen Speaks.” Next time Nick Cave graces a stage near you, make every effort to experience him. We may never see his like again.