Many people have two phases in their lives, according to Nick Cave. The first phase represents self-centered assuredness and an even keel: the path they assume they will take that is the fruition of their own choices and desires. This phase can be ‘obliterated’ for some by external events beyond their control. This inevitably, leads to a second phase where, having had the steering wheel wrested from their hands, people are forced to change tack, change their values and the entire direction of their life. It can be transcendent, it can be destructive.
Two years ago, Cave began the global Skeleton Tree tour in Hobart following such a moment in his life: the death of his son Arthur. This loss obliterated Cave’s first-phase life but inevitable moved him to his second phase – a move from studied introspection and isolationism to a sense and feeling for the community. Cave describes the thousands of people who contacted him following his son’s death, not so much to express sympathy but to share their own personal tales of grief. He began the Red Hand files as a way of connecting to and communicating directly with his fans. The Skeleton Tree Tour was the first step in getting back to normality, and Cave describes how his band used this first gig in Hobart to ’go hard’ in the normal Bad Seeds manner. It was only after this gig that Cave and the band realised that their audience would warmly receive the quieter more contemplative moments of the set and changed the approach accordingly, playing their biggest and most successful tour to date.
The current tour is a natural extension of phase two of Cave’s life, and naturally the themes of death and the way of dealing with tragedy features strongly. Last night in Hobart, commencing the Australasian part of this tour in the intimate environs of the Odeon Theatre, Cave was utterly mesmerising: open and honest, candid and emotional. He politely and firmly shut down the inevitable stupid and strangely defensive questions from some audience members, he explored in detail relationships – Michael Hutchence, Kylie, Rowland S Howard and PJ Harvey – and spent a great deal of time talking about his creative processes. He firmly denied that depression was the necessary muse for creativity but was rather his “Moose” – a lumbering, plodding weight on his psyche.
Cave expressed his sincere humility and surprise at the impact his music has once it is released into the wild – gently chiding an audience member who expressed his desire for Lay Me down Low to be played at his funeral but humbled at the knowledge that people play his songs at significant moments in their lives.
There were inevitably very touching moments – a maternity nurse who dealt with every day death by listening to Cave, a recently widowed-woman whose 20 years of marriage was punctuated by Nick Cave’s music which helped her deal with her loss. There were light-hearted moments – a five year old boy who grew up listening to Cave asking if this would damage him (“No”) – tales of Cave’s encounters with the Hobart police in the eighties and a chap who had stolen a coaster with lyrics to ‘Stranger than Kindness’ from Cave in the eighties.
In fact at this point Cave sat down and played the song: symbolising the spontaneity of the evening. Audience members were invited to request songs throughout the evening. Cave could not play many of them (‘too many chords’) and many he chose himself. And indeed the music was as mesmerising as the conversation, crossing decades of music from The Mercy Seat, The Ship Song, The Weeping Song, West Country Girl to Love Letter and Skeleton Tree. Cave closed on the enthralling Into Your Arms.
At one point Cave made an oblique reference to Hobart’s fabulous Dark Mofo Festival. Was there a hint of a future appearance? You read it here first. In another comment on the role of faith in his music, Cave alluded to a belief that there is some kind of force in the universe but candidly admitted that themes of religion and spirituality are important ingredients without which he would struggle for topics – faith was ‘good for business’.
The evening was a perfect mix of music and conversation but above all it was as close to a religious experience that an emphatically non-religious cynic like myself could experience. There was a lot of talk about God – whether it be Leonard Cohen, Mark E Smith or an all-powerful being, but surely the closest thing I will ever experience to enlightenment would be a conversation with Nick Cave.
Tickets for the the remaining tour across Australia and New Zealand can be obtained here (unless sold out).