Showcasing sharp mohawks and goth attire, the audience pouring into Kings Theatre looked far more ready to headbang than lean back in plush seats to weep. The second scenario was most prevalent throughout Kings Theatre on Friday night, an understandable reaction to the intensely rich sounds of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Their New York fans were a handful, but even those who hollered between songs joined the rest in a hypnotized state of awe during the music. When Nick Cave was at his most vulnerable and singing ever so softly – the hushed moments most susceptible to disruption – the drunken shouters behaved, and the crowded venue stayed pin-drop silent. The few sounds stuck out like gunshots; one person cracking open a can, another briefly adjusting a plastic merch bag. The Australian experimental heroes are well deserving of this focus. The fact that they’re about to wrap up a four-night run in Brooklyn/NYC (split between Kings Theatre & Beacon Theater) on their packed tour says a lot about the devoted following they’ve been building since the seventies.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis were equally full of energy, and intriguingly, exuding it in almost opposite ways. Cave moved with the elegance of a ghost slipping out of a mirror. It seemed like his fingertips were being pulled by invisible strings as he matched the reaching arms of admirers pushing up against the stage. Ellis skipped into view, blew kisses, and happy-danced over to his spot on the right. The longtime collaborators were backed by a subtle multi-instrumentalist and a trio of stunning backup singers: T Jae Cole, Janet Rasmus, and Wendi Rose. While their setlist mostly remains the same by date, Kings Theatre got a generous one on night two, made up of twenty-two songs – mostly Bad Seeds stuff and a cover of “Cosmic Dancer” by T. Rex. In a longer second encore compared to night one, they added “Jubilee Street” and “Girl in Amber” between “Into My Arms” and “Ghosteen Speaks.” The opening impact of “Spinning Song” and “Bright Horses,” two moving slow-burners, set the melancholy tone for the night and also had fans jumping to their feet to cheer. After the harmony-fueled “Night Raid” and Brooklyn’s adoring applause, Cave greeted us with, “Thank you! Thank you, Brooklyn! Thank you, everyone up there,” gesturing to the balconies. A fan yelled something indistinguishable (“You’re here!” perhaps), and the showman replied with amusement, “What? My hair? Fuck.”
The echoing declarations were getting so goofy that Cave changed his tone too, cracking everyone up. “ALRIGHT!” he growled, adopting a beastly tone. “ALRIIIIIIGHT. This one’s called ‘CARNAGE!’ And it’s for that guy,” he said with a grin. The inebriated interjections continued, but they politely followed a rocking “White Elephant,” romantic “Ghosteen,” and vocally-stunning “Lavender Fields.” Cave once again tried to interpret the slurred requests reverberating around Kings Theatre to no avail, replying, “What was that? Something mean about my piano playing? …I really love that you’re yelling stuff out, but I can’t fucking understand a word you’re saying.” Laughter now filled the room too. “I think it’s a very, very beautiful idea that we had this witty exchange, but I don’t understand you. Something about a piano. I can’t play it because Warren has to count it in. So I literally have absolutely no control over this concert whatsoever. I am utterly dependent upon Warren counting the song in. I’m just a fucking cog in his psychedelic machine. And I get the feeling that the counting is gonna come, like, soon.” It did. Very dramatically, Warren Ellis began easing them into “Waiting For You.” His “Onnne, twoooo…” and big arm motions made Cave snicker into the mic, but it became clear it was the actual count-off when Ellis continued with “…threeee, fouuuur…”
Like a gold thread stitched through the black fabric of the evening, Cave creatively repeated spoken word phrases from previous songs, tying disparate ideas together in his evocative deep timbre. The crowd was visibly torn between catching every whisper from Cave and locking their eyes on the deft work of his instrument-switching bandmate. Ellis is the kind of performer who can not only play a tender violin solo, but do so with his feet in the air – as if pedaling an invisible bike – adding fancy flourishes with his bow like a matador. Squeals ensued with all of his pauses and poses. Cave’s snake-charmer powers are sneakier. Even his most casual actions have a way of drawing people in – like when he tosses preceding pages of sheet music behind him while pounding plangent sounds out of the piano. As they coaxed out a whole spectrum of feelings, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis also inspired two nice realizations. The first: that two legends with so many hits can earn massive screams during such slow and emotional music. The second: that a giant crowd of present-day humans can stop everything and concentrate on something so heavy. And they really took it in, relishing each dark, delicate note and Nick Cave’s poignant prose.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley