Just a few hours after ‘Ghosteen’, the devastating, meditative new Bad Seeds album simultaneously shatters thousands of hearts, Nick Cave saunters onstage in Nashville, resplendent in an extremely well-cut suit.
Cave isn’t doing any interviews to promote the new record, but that’s not to say he isn’t talking. In fact over the past year he’s been talking more he’s ever done, sending out his weekly Red Hand Files newsletter, poetically and powerfully answering questions – both bizarre and brave – from fans who’ve come to treat him like an existentialist Agony Uncle. This summer Cave has also been taking his marathon In Conversation sessions across Europe and America, the events all pushing the three-hour mark, as he mixes up bare-bones greatest hits from across his career on the grand piano and fields unfiltered questions from the crowd.
This evening the one-man show lands in the home of one of his major influences, country and western – music not just of good boots and nice hats, but also of Cave’s well-trodden territory of death and sex and fire and brimstone. Unsurprisingly for a night which begins with one of the greatest love songs ever written (‘The Ship Song’), it’s an emotional rollercoaster, with Cave cracking wise one minute (when asked about becoming a vegetarian he states ,“I would be vegan, it’s just that the shoes are so fucking bad”) and ruminating on addiction, personal tragedy, cancel culture and the nature of evil the next.
Every song he plays is a triumph. There’s Grinderman’s ‘Palaces of Montezuma’, which takes on a rambunctious ragtime energy, and ‘Love Letter’, which twinkles with a beautiful kind of pain. And then there’s the yearning ‘Jubilee Street’, perhaps the most majestic song of the Bad Seeds’ entire back catalogue, and an extra doomy take on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Avalanche’. For all those songs’ greatness, though, tonight isn’t about the music. It’s about getting inside the mind of the man behind it – a rare thing for a fan to experience first-hand.
Eloquent and charming, witty and gracious, Cave is as good on the things he hates as the things he loves. When asked if political correctness affects art negatively, it’s not a shock to hear the man who broke the mainstream by singing about murdering Kylie agree. “It affects us all – it’s acting as something very, very damaging to the creative process. But it’s also gotten rid of a lot of bullshit too… PC culture has turned into a bit of a rapacious animal which is not good for the creative process.” When it comes to people’s past comments being dragged up from the bowels of the internet, he is just as firm. “We need to forget the stupid things we did when we were young, or simply forget, which is one thing PC culture does not do.”
He is passionate, too, when he talks about friend and former collaborator Shane MacGowan, calling him “simply the best of the lot of us”. Cave explains that he used to go round to the Pogues frontman’s house and find him watching non-stop violent movies on TV, adding that he once found the lyrics to an unreleased song called ‘St John of God’ in a pile of rubbish. “I cried in front of him when I read it. It was the most beautiful lyric I’d ever read, and he’d just chucked it in the bin. So God knows what else slipped through the net.” He also expresses frustration with his song Red Right Hand, which “follows me around like a junkyard dog”, and a love for Snoop Dogg’s recent cover of the song that everyone now knows thanks to ‘Peaky Blinders’, saying: “Of all the versions, his is the one that I had a giant smile on my face after. He didn’t perform it with great reverence, he just fucked around with it and reignited my love for that song.”
His funniest answers are the one-liners, which Cave delivers like some louche 1970s stand-up. This seems all the more apt when you take into account the stage dressed with a handful of small, candle-lit tables, with a few lucky fans sat around them as if they were in a basement comedy club rather than a grand theatre. Asked where he gets his immaculate shirts, he fires back: “A gentleman never talks about his tailor.” On what he’s personally doing about climate change he states: “It might look like I’m the orchestra playing on the Titanic as it went down – but I kind of love that orchestra.” On whether he’ll ever bring back his Dig Lazarus Dig era moustache he bristles, “I’m not allowed,” before looking over to the curtain behind which his wife Susie is stood. “It was a fight that I lost.” On remixes of records that have already been released, he is brutal. “If Neil Young ever remixed ‘On The Beach’ I would fucking seek him out and strangle him, because it’s my song!”
The evening is also a chance for fans to give back to the man who gave them so much. Novels, letters and notebooks full of “darkest secrets” are handed over to Cave, who stacks them up on his piano as if he’s arranging the tree on Christmas Eve and promises to read every one. After tonight’s display of empathy and understanding, we don’t doubt him for a second.