For Cave, Ellis, a little change goes a long way

Boch Center Wang Theatre, Boston, March 22, 2022

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Nick Cave took his time in turning on the jets, starting off with three slow, similarly-styled, not especially melodic songs in "Spinning Song," "Bright Horses" and "Night Raid."

But that would all change dramatically for the rest of the show when he turned to "Carnage," the title track of the 2020 album recorded with longtime sidekick Warren Ellis, who was also here in a bill featuring both of them.

For the remainder of the nearly 140-minute show, Cave was at his best from singing to song selection, even if the songs leave much to interpretation.

Cave has been in a few musical incarnations since getting his start in Australia four decades ago, primarily with The Bad Seeds. This marked the first time Cave and Ellis toured together as a duo (they did have a backing drummer/keyboardist in Luis Almau and three back-up singers).

Cave and Ellis leaned heavily on "Carnage," playing six songs. About two-thirds of the set was comprised of songs from The Bad Seeds, including seven alone from 2019's "Ghosteen." Plus a good cover of T. Rex's "Cosmic Dancer."

Musically, Cave and Ellis got a lot of sound with many swirls and swells out of only a few instruments. Ellis played a MIDI controller, which created ripples of sound. He also turned to violin on several songs, fleshing out the songs with Cave often on piano.

Cave's baritone was typically mixed quite high, and his deep, protruding voice was commanding, even if not entirely a thing of beauty. Sometimes he would more say the words than sing them.

Cave shared religious viewpoints in several songs, most notably the pulsating, intense, elongated "Hand of God" from Carnage. While the music soared, as it did in the best of the concert's songs, Cave brought the vocal intensity of the lyrics where he seemed to challenge the power of God. The backing triumvirate of Wendi Rose, Janet Ramus and T Jae Cole only helped the vocal cause.

The equally fine "God is in the House" appeared to find Cave extolling the virtues of small town Christian life secured by the church while ill rages around the world. Only the people have a sheltered perspective of what life is all about.

Cave cut a serious appearance with his musical styles, suit and white shirt and a commanding presence (he's a lanky 6-2). Not to mention his musical style. Yet, that would be misleading when it came to his stage persona.

He has quite a good sense of humor, which at some level softened the denseness of the songs. Cave bantered with the crowd on numerous occasions, with many funny comments thrown in. That was particularly true in "The Balcony Man," the close of the regular set, when he urged those in the balcony to yell when they heard the word "balcony." Cave promised it would work, and he was right.

And Ellis contributed to that as well. Looking like a bit of a wild man with a long, salt-and-pepper beard, Ellis threw in his own humor with very sllooowwww intro counts to songs. And when he played violin on one song, sitting down, he kicked his legs up to the air and kept them there.

As Cave and Ellis showed, it's not always how you start something, but how you finish. This was a winning night out.

© Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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