A little over a year ago, prolific singer-songwriter Nick Cave started a project called the Red Hand Files, where fans could write in with questions, and he would answer them on the website. Recently, this has turned into a new type of show he’s started touring with, called Conversations with Nick Cave: An Evening of Talk and Music.
After the spoken-word piece "Steve McQueen" played over the speakers, Cave walked out and took a seat behind a grand piano on stage, starting off with "The Ship Song" before introducing the concept of the evening. He would be fielding questions from the audience (helpers going to seats signalling the stage with flashing light sticks) and weave in some music throughout the night.
Without going too far into the details, the questions Cave tackled ranged from his music to grief to mental health, and everywhere in between. With open and honest sincerity -- and occasional interjections of a wry sense of humour -- he talked about his writing process and collaborations, his novels and film scores, and the concept of "separating art from the artist". But also opened up about addiction, about faith and dealing with the death of a son. And many of the questioners themselves were just as candid, sharing their own stories and heartache, a couple even likening it to a sort of group therapy session. A fact that Cave pointed out was interesting, because he never specifically intended for that; not having a plan for the shows, he lets the audience dictate the tone and mood -- but embraces it with open arms and compassion.
Which can be risky for unplanned Q&As, but the questions were all very good, with only a couple people being... let's say "overly enthusiastic" or asking something that he just flat-out couldn't answer.
But it was a night of Talk and Music, and every few questions Cave would segue into a song, either fielding requests or finding a natural transition. He admitted his "fucking jealousy" for Leonard Cohen before going into a cover of "Avalanche" and after a question on his old band The Boys Next Door, played "Shivers".
Songs spanned his career and projects with “Palaces of Montezuma” from Grinderman, and fan favourites like "The Weeping Song" and one of my personal all-time faves, the heart-wrenchingly gorgeous "Into My Arms". Other songs were given a bit of a makeover, as Cave was alone at the piano. The fractiousness of "The Mercy Seat" was only slightly tempered, and the raucous "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry" kept its sinister tone.
After three hours(!) of taking questions, he was given the sign to wrap it up. Having previously talked about the the ultra violent and over-the-top murder ballad "Stagger Lee", he played that, once again the translation on piano losing none of the vitriol or hatred as Cave spat out the narrative. And then he finished off the night by doing a complete 180, like only Cave can, with an absolutely beautiful rendition of "Breathless".
It felt like Nick Cave could have gone on for far longer, if he wasn’t cut off. And honestly, I could have, too. There are few musicians that I’d want to see play for three hours, let alone talk at length, but Nick Cave’s captivating presence, both performing and preaching, made for an incredibly memorable night.
The Ship Song
The Weeping Song
Avalanche [Leonard Cohen cover]
The Mercy Seat
Into My Arms
Shivers [The Boys Next Door]
Papa Won't Leave You, Henry
Palaces of Montezuma [Grinderman]