Lovers Lane
IE Calendar

Live Review and Photo Gallery: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – Auditorium Theatre • Chicago

| April 1, 2022

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis

Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Review by Jeff Elbel

Photos by Andy Argyrakis courtesy of the Auditorium Theatre

When Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave last performed at the venerable Auditorium Theatre in 2017, there was no trace of worry about a global pandemic. The show became a religious experience, with fans invited to crowd onto the stage in musical communion with Cave’s band the Bad Seeds. Cave himself waded deep into the audience atop the backs of chairs, steadied by a sea of raised hands. From the middle of the gilded room, Cave led the audience in song with messianic zeal. Those gestures remain impractical in 2022, but Cave and longtime collaborator Warren Ellis found other ways to close the gap between performer and audience on Sunday night.

The ensemble was designed for intimacy. Cave either prowled the rim of the stage with a microphone in hand or sat playing a grand piano. Ellis performed seated before a bank of effects pedals, creating textures, loops, and melodies with a small synthesizer. Behind Cave’s piano was a trio of Gospel singers in sparkling robes. Covering everything else including keyboard, bass, percussion, and drums was multi-instrumentalist Luis Almau. Cave appeared in his familiar dark suit with an open-collared shirt. The bearded Ellis was similarly attired, looking just a bit wilder and more disheveled.

Cave and Ellis kept busy during the lockdown, and the concert promoted two releases. In a performance that exceeded two hours, nine songs were performed from the Bad Seeds’ late 2019 LP Ghosteen. Six of the eight songs were performed from Carnage, the pair’s most recent release. The tone was downtempo and moody, but the music bore an unflagging intensity to draw listeners to the edges of their seats. The fresh material found Cave well in control of his hallmark sounds and topics. The minimalist band incorporated gut-level blues, Gospel fervor, gothic atmosphere, beat poetry, murder ballads, protest, and amazement at the wonder of both life and death.

Cave stood alongside his vocal trio during Elvis Presley’s fable “Spinning Song” and performed “Bright Horses” from the piano. He set the scene for the cinematic and romantic “Night Raid,” saying, “This is a story about a series of events that happened in room 33 of the Grand Hotel.” Ellis raised his hands to the sky after playing each chord progression, which resounded like clanging bells from a cathedral tower.

Cave made connections that were both all-encompassing and specific. “Thank you for that letter,” he said to someone in the first rows. “I read it twice. This is for you.” Cave then performed the restless but optimistic title track “Carnage.”

Violent posturing and protest comingled during “White Elephant.” Cave crowed like a rooster between lyrics that drew upon imagery including the death of George Floyd. The caustic braggadocio ultimately gave way to a tuneful Gospel chorus about the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. Cave pivoted to an ode to beauty and listlessness during the song of secular seeking “Ghosteen.” “There’s nothing wrong with loving something you can’t hold in your hand,” he sang. Ellis’ synth swells created a languid backdrop for a picturesque character sketch during “Lavender Fields.” Cave was joined in a duet by singer Wendi Rose, who stepped forward in her shimmering white gown. The pair reached together for transcendence, looking again toward the “kingdom in the sky.”

Ellis pulled back the tempo with a deliberately slow count-in for the dramatic “Waiting for You.” The understated arrangement was heightened by the striking image presented on stage. Ellis was illuminated at the right by a single blue spotlight, while Cave appeared at his piano to the left under a crown of blue and white beams.

Cave performed alone at the piano during “I Need You.” “Nothing really matters,” he repeated until it became clear that the character’s object of desperate longing was the only thing that mattered in the world. Cave inserted emotive pauses into the song, met with pin-drop silence by a riveted audience. Cave intoned the mantra “just breathe” until it disappeared into a whisper.

“Warren is going to play the fucking violin,” announced Cave next with enthusiasm. The pair played a captivating version of T. Rex’s song “Cosmic Dancer.” Ellis leaned back on his chair while playing a rich melody, kicking his feet off the ground and rocking gently as if he were floating into the cosmos. “God is in the House” followed with Ellis again on swooning violin, earning cheers of recognition from the room. Ellis rose to his feet for the first time to play the song’s solo. Cave’s reverent tone was belied by increasingly chaotic imagery and the rueful lyric, “Oh, I wish He would come out.”

“Hand of God” brought the energy to a fever pitch. Cave’s lyric sang of wading into deep water and being consumed by the unrelenting force of a river. “You are a body of water,” he announced to the crowd, grasping hands and the rim of the stage and marking the time when he’d likely have entered the crowd during times not overwhelmed by health concerns.

Material returned from divine wonder to matters of the heart with songs including the lovelorn and melancholy “Shattered Ground,” hopeful ballad “Galleon Ship,” and the starry-eyed “Leviathan.”

The main set concluded as Cave turned his attention to the deepest and furthest seats in the expansive Auditorium Theatre. For “Balcony Man,” Cave asked supporters in the upper levels to cheer whenever they heard the word “balcony.” Then he peered into the top-most Gallery seats, a city block away and towering high over the stage. “Oh, fuck, it goes right up there,” Cave said, peering under his hand against the stage lights. “Wow. Puts things in perspective.” The song was brightened with heart-swelling emotion and repetition of a line that expressed gratitude for a treasured relationship. “This morning is amazing and so are you,” sang Cave. The song ended with an observation marking the unpredictable nature of any shared life, turning a familiar phrase on its ear. “What doesn’t kill you just makes you crazier,” sang Cave.

The group returned for the first encore of two songs. “Hollywood” saw Almau move to a drum set for the first conventional rock beat played during the evening. The song drew from the Buddhist tale of Kisa Gotami, speaking to the universality of tragedy and sorrow. “Henry Lee” was performed from the 1996 album Murder Ballads. “Terrible things happen in it,” said Cave. “Unlike the other songs,” he added slyly.

The evening concluded with a second and final encore. Cave’s understated masterpiece and piano ballad “Into My Arms” mused upon the nature of God, gratitude, and devoted love. “Ghosteen Speaks” recalled the profound loss and emptiness left by the death of Cave’s teenage son Arthur in 2015, but also welcomed the comfort of beloved friends. “I think my friends have gathered here for me,” sang Cave, looking for a final time into the hall and thanking those friends gathered in Chicago.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Featured, IE Photo Gallery, Live Reviews, Weekly

About the Author ()

Comments are closed.