Songs may be downers, but Cave brings the joy

Wang Theatre, Boston, October 10, 2023

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Nick Cave presented a different face, of sorts. Of course, he was elegantly dressed as usual in a gray suit and white shirt.

But there was no band – no Bad Seeds. No Warren Ellis with whom he toured last year. Instead, it was mainly Cave sitting at a grand piano with backing bass from Colin Greenwood of Radiohead, who tended to be in the background.

Cave made it clear this was a chance for him to consider the material as perhaps never before. "This is a different concert," Cave told the faithful before launching into "Higgs Boson Blues." "I'm going to do a bunch of songs...For me to play them on a piano makes me get (into) the songs much deeper."

As a result, the focal point was squarely on Cave's sonorous baritone. Cave altered the tempos with the fatter, bigger sounding songs generally resulting in bolder piano playing and sharper vocals that made you listen. He played songs from his earliest music days to a few songs from 2021's disc with Ellis, "Carnage." It made no difference how new or old the songs sounded for Cave as in his hands, everything sounded vibrant.

Cave, who sometimes played solo, offered many introductions to the songs, often putting them in some context, such as when playing "Shivers," a song by one of his former groups, the Melbourne, Australia-based The Boys Next Door, the forerunner of another of his bands, The Birthday Party. Cave informed the crowd that Rowland Stuart Howard amazingly wrote "Shivers" at the age of 16 while in the band Young Charlatans. Howard joined The Boys Next Door, who released the song as a single.

Cave would not be accused of singing upbeat songs. There are lots of songs about loss, isolation and death. "The Mercy Seat" is about a man facing the electric chair along with its Christian iconography about meeting up with God. The intensity of the song, like some others on the night, only intensified with Cave's repeated vocal lines. One of the best songs of the night, "Stranger Than Kindness."

But this was not a downer of the evening. Most fortunately for Cave, he has a very good stage presence. He's very funny, on the wry side. He interacted with the audience from taking a few requests ("Mermaids" to open the encore with Cave saying, "I don't think we've played this so far on this on this tour...We'll give it a go. If it fucks up, it's basically your fault." He didn't.) to not needing to say anything and (presumably jokingly) in eying a fan returning from a break to sit back down in the second row.

And then he had those in the balcony with him on "Balcony Man" where he made it clear – in a nice, funny way – that all around the world, fans cheer at the mention of the word "balcony" in the song. Cave's fans kept the streak going.

Nick Cave songs may not be of the upbeat, feel good variety. That's a given. But putting a new spin on the songs with his trademark humor made for a joyful night of music nonetheless.

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