Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
St George’s Hall, Bradford
Wednesday 15th September 2021
Andy Brown heads to St George’s Hall in Bradford to catch Nick Cave and Warren Ellis on their current UK tour. Magic, melancholy and communal euphoria ensue.
Back in 2020, I had planned to attend the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds gig at Leeds Arena before that pesky pandemic unceremoniously tore up my plans for the year. It’s just one factor that makes tonight’s Nick Cave and Warren Ellis show feel extra special. As the expectant crowd forms a long, orderly queue outside the rather magnificent St George’s Hall, I’m reminded just how lucky we all are to be here. You can almost feel the anticipation as the audience and band ready themselves to reconnect with the excitement and intimacy of live music.
Tonight’s show explores the subtler side of Nick Cave’s repertoire, with 2019’s slow-burning Bad Seeds album Ghosteen and this year’s Carnage LP taking centre stage, the latter being Cave’s recent release with long-time collaborator and fellow Bad Seed, Warren Ellis. The dynamic duo is joined by multi-instrumentalist Johnny Hostile and backing singers Wendi Rose, T Jae Cole and Janet Ramus. There’s plenty of sadness to be found in these gently melancholic melodies, yet the overall effect is one of meditative serenity and transformative beauty.
“With his black jelly hair” croons Cave, as he’s enveloped in the dreamlike fog of The Spinning Song, “He crashed onto a stage…in Bradford”. The audience is quietly entranced by the song’s hypnotic haze as Ellis’ synth soundscapes seep into every corner. I swear you can hear hearts swell as the title track from Carnage ripples through the room. The song lifts off as Cave and the backing singers swoon, “it’s only love with a little bit of rain”. When it comes to an end, I hear someone whisper, “oh my god”.
Sat with a small synth across his knees, Ellis looks perfectly at home on stage as he conjures ethereal waves of sound. Hostile switches between bass, drums and synth as backing singers Rose, Cole and Ramus take the roof off. The trio turn the gorgeous Lavender Fields into a revelatory spiritual, and bolster the intensity of Hand Of God. The latter proves to be particularly cathartic as Ellis stamps his way through the brooding groove. Cave in full preacher mode drops to his knees to scream the song’s mantra.
When White Elephant is dedicated to an artist from Leeds, the audience responds with a pantomime mixture of cheers and boos. Ever the gentleman, Cave responds with a jovial, “Oh, that didn’t get you onside. Fuck Leeds”. This receives a similar mixture of cheers, boos and laughter. Cave jokingly offers up a superbly diplomatic, “Fuck Bradford and Leeds”. The music is frequently intense and moving yet there’s a tangible sense of joy in the room. “I love you Nick” come the cries from the crowd, followed by a much-deserved shout-out for Ellis. “He’s so fucking lovable” agrees Cave.
I Need You and a forlorn rendition of T Rex classic Cosmic Dancer find Cave in balladeer mode, delivering heartbreak and wonder in equal measure. It’s a real thrill to hear God Is In The House and the applause that greets Ellis’ violin solo. Galleon Ship, Leviathan and the sprawling Hollywood transport the entire venue to another place with exquisitely realised soundscapes. The brilliant Balcony Man is full of hope and quiet grandeur. I can feel the weight of the last 18 months begin to lift from my shoulders as they sing, “this morning is amazing and so are you”.
Ramus duets with Cave on the murderous Henry Lee before Into My Arms and the haunting Ghosteen Speaks gently send us on our way. “I am beside you/ you are beside me” croons a reassuring Cave, “I think they’re singing to be free”. The two encores and ecstatic applause feel entirely deserved. Much will be said about this tour I’m sure, yet let me assure you that this isn’t needles, journalistic hyperbole. Tonight’s performance really was one for the ages.
All photos by Kenny Brown.
All words by Andy Brown. You can visit his author profile and read more of his reviews for Louder Than War here.