The life of a rock and roll fan can be filled with simple pleasures. A good song well played is quite enough to sate us through a great many things. Nick Cave and a piano. That’s really something. His whole song book at his feet and all the time in the world to deep dive into his many tentacled expansive history. The trend for Livecasts in place of gigs in 2020 will be something hard to explain a generation from now, when people have forgotten what it was like to be a fan denied the communion of many varied gatherings. I have been on many and inward journey to listening parties (thank you Tim Charlatan) live streams and live box sets parties in 2020 to try and scratch that “I miss gigs” itch. Three things have really done it for me. Really made me feel like I got something special and unique.
Firstly was The Wildhearts live album. That really sounds like a gig. Really. But I’ve covered that already. Secondly was Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes putting on a live set so enthused and inclusive in their venue of choice (Brixton Academy) on my Birthday. I know they didn’t know. But a birthday gig is a tradition I was glad to re-establish after a fallow few years. It’s been Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Paramore, Queens Of The Stone Age and Springsteen in the past. I haven’t seen a gig on my birthday since 2015.
The most beautiful and unique lockdown listening experience for my money though has come in the tall slender and stylishly tailored frame of Uncle Nick sat at a piano in the Victorian splendor of Alexandra Palace. He was on last years end of 2019 honours list for his mold breaking double album mood painting Ghosteen. This year the exercise in power through song has been stripped back further. If you’re any kid of alternative music fan you know at least half of this set in one incarnation or another.
Unifying The Mercy Seat’s chaos, Henry’s Dream, Murder Ballads and side projects like Grinderman to their words and their chords is a powerful move. At points some tracks sound hymnal at others you feel like you’re really getting the goods on songs you’ve know for years ans year.
Of all the riches Nick is casting before us I have chosen the baroque sinners song Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry because of it’s gut punch bacchanalia. Tunefully it’s proper, almost posh in this format. All lilting low end and gentle tinkling. Lyrically it’s a vile tale of excess and horror. The perfect presence of those absent Bad Seeds in implication at least. In a time when the rich got richer while the rest of us gave up so much for the collective good this song feels like a peep behind the velvet curtain.
After the beauty of the two preceding tracks (also posted below but purposefully out of sequence to help you cleanse your palate) to remember that THEY don’t care about us, they don’t deserve subservience, respect or even our conformity. The system is rigged in their favour. These verses are almost musical theater if we are living through some sort of real life 21st century Les Misérables opening act. Art elevates us. Always has always will. Nick Cave is a Master of his craft.
This album works as a ‘best of’ better than many a pre-exisitng ‘best of’ because it unites all of the songs into a format where they hang together. Not that I don’t miss Deanna and Nature Boy from the mix. That’s why we still need those Bad Seeds and their expansive danger. I’d say a Grinderman III wouldn’t go a miss either. Nick’s output definitely has periods of change (besides his voice) it’s hard to liken it all to the same band. I’ve spoken before about how I struggle with Skeleton Key at times but go in hard for Let Love In, Dig Lazarus Dig, The Lyre Of Orpheus and Abattoir Blues.
In this context not only do I now get Girl In Amber, but I feel like I’ve just been gifted an understanding that eluded me until this performance. Gigs work best when you get something new to take to heart and get to thrill at your favourites being played a new. Idiot Prayer is a phenomenal live album, a perfect compilation of one type of Nick Cave retrospective and a new and unique master work all at once. Same goes for Brompton Oratory, Galleon Ship and Euthanasia.
Simple and beautiful. One of the albums of the year.