Gig Review: Nick Cave, The Bridgewater Hall, February 6, 2005

The announcement of a Nick Cave tour always creates a great deal of excitement in our household. Having seen the man perform a “solo” gig at the Liverpool Philharmonic a few years ago, we both kind of figured that his gig at Bridgewater Hall with only Warren Ellis, Martyn P. Casey and Jim Sclavunos would be a similar affair – quiet, subdued and mostly consisting of Nick Cave on piano and only sparse arrangements behind him.

Oh how we were wrong.

The band entered first and began making an unholy racket which at first I thought was “The Lyre of Orpheus,” a song he’d abandoned at the previous Manchester gig because he’d forgotten the lyrics. When Nick strolled out on stage with his lovely new Fu Manchu moustache to sit at his piano, however, he launched into a feral version of “West Country Girl,” which was so different from the album version that it took me a verse to recognise it. This pretty much set the tone for the show. Although he stayed behind his piano for most of the night, emerging only to serenade the front rows with “Rock of Gibraltar” and to play guitar on a couple of old classics, he stayed behind the piano, pounding on it like a madman and contorting himself up and down and side to side.

The most interesting songs of the night had to be the most surprising renditions: “Henry Lee” delivered with the same fast-paced ferocity as the opener – maybe that’s the emotion that the idea of PJ Harvey inspires in him these days; and unusually quiet and tender versions of “Red Right Hand,” “Stagger Lee” and the chilling “The Mercy Seat.” He also managed to get through “The Lyre of Orpheus” this time, which came complete with heckles from the audience about his last aborted attempt. In fact, quite a lot of heckling took place, something I would not be brave enough to attempt. He took it in his stride though.

What amazes me every time I listen to Nick Cave are the lyrical nuances I always discover on each and every listen. I never feel like I’ve gotten to know any Nick Cave record because everytime I play one it feels new and I find new things about familiar songs. This time, “People Ain’t No Good” made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I realised how much I’ve grown to adore “Love Letter,” “Wonderful Life” and “Babe, You Turn Me On.” It is one of the few gigs I’ve seen in a long time by an artist I adore where I haven’t spent much of the night wondering when or even if I’ll hear my favourite. He obliged, turning in what I thought was the least impressive song of the night with “The Ship Song”; but every song, even the ones I don’t know well, such as the two b-sides from his recent rarities collection, sounded magnificent and sent me scurrying off to spend eight hours the next day playing his albums on repeat on my MP3 player.

This was a spectacular performance from an amazing songwriter who for one night only took his beautiful songs into a place for quiet reverence of symphonies and filled it with a sound far greater, far more intense, and at times far more delicate and emotional than most symphonies I’ve heard.

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