Review | Nick Cave & Warren Ellis at The Kings Theatre, Southsea: 'Moments of devastating beauty'
Nick Cave drops to his knees, one hand on the mic, one hand stretched up towards the trio of singers around him.
They are all chanting ‘Hand of God’, as the music swells and an electronic beat throbs relentlessly. The whole stage is bathed in blood-red light.
It’s an electrifying moment of high drama.
The Kings was a late addition to the tour, and to say the levels of anticipation for this show were high would be an understatement. The date pretty much sold out on its first day and the theatre is packed, quite literally, to the rafters.
The previous two dates had filled The Royal Albert Hall in London, and here was the same show at The Kings. There is an air of this being more than just another gig – it's An Occasion.
Multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis has been part of Cave’s backing band The Bad Seeds since 1997, but the pair have also recorded several film soundtracks together, as well as working on the ‘midlife crisis’ Grinderman side-project.
But Carnage is the first standalone album the pair have released, and it has been described by the frontman as ‘a brutal but very beautiful record nested in a communal catastrophe’.
Sonically and thematically it is a natural extension of the last Bad Seeds album, Ghosteen (written in the aftermath of Cave’s teenage son’s death), and tonight’s show draws heavily on these two works.
Aside from Cave and Ellis the only others on stage are Johnny Hostile, providing drums, bass and synths as the songs demand, and a trio of singers – T Jae Cole, Janet Rasmus and Wendi Rose – to call them backing vocalists would do them down, they are an integral part of the show.
Ellis remains seated for most of the show, stage left, with a keyboard perched precariously on his knees.
The music moves from ethereal ambience to nerve-jangling clangs – sometimes within the same song, with Cave either at the grand piano, interacting with the other singers or his spindly figure is prowling the front of the stage – singing, declaiming and growling in full-on preacher mode.
It’s an emotionally intense performance, but Cave is also a genial host, joking with the audience between songs. Carnage’s title track is dedicated to Portsmouth, before he mutters: ‘Stay in the hotel, they said…’
Meanwhile White Elephant manages to combine sex and violence as only Cave really knows how.
And there’s a gorgeous cover of T Rex’s Cosmic Dancer, which has Ellis trading the keyboard for his violin, his legs kicking spasmodically.
For most of the show, you could hear a pin drop during the quieter moments – there is none of the chatter that mars so many gigs.
I Need You, from 2016’s The Skeleton Tree sees Cave alone at the piano, bathed in white light, with just the other vocalists for backing. At the song’s climax he repeats: ‘Just breathe’ over and over, until you realise you have indeed been holding your breath.
It’s a moment of devastating beauty.
It’s not until the encores that they delve further into the back catalogue – the seldom-played Watching Alice from ’88’s Tender Prey is a welcome addition, while Henry Lee is from ’96’s Murder Ballads. The latter has Rose take PJ Harvey’s part – trading verses with Cave before the song builds to its satisfying climax.
Credit is due too to the part the venue plays – The Kings provides a fitting setting, its grandeur heightening the drama of a show that is already often theatrical in its delivery.
It’s a night that will stay long in the memory of those lucky enough to be here.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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