I’ve always gone slightly overboard with things, so when a Paris based friend of mine mentioned back in May that Nick Cave was due to play Paris in November, I jumped on the opportunity and bought a ticket straight away. I like Paris, enjoy watching and listening to Nick Cave, if only for violin player Warren Ellis (whose band the Dirty Three is amongst my ultimate favourites, but I’ll rant about them some other time), so sure, why not?
What we didn’t know back in May, was that the Paris gig would be promoting Nick’s new double album ‘Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus’. A double album indeed, because the two albums are completely different, in a yin and yang, light and dark kind of complementing fashion. The first disc, Abattoir Blues is the more heavy and rocky one. The second is bit more light, with more piano play. Apparently the split was made as a result of the two drummers’ different playing styles, with Nick Sclavunos on Abattoir Blues and Thomas Wydler on Lyre of Orpheus.
Throughout both albums Nick’s dark, somewhat morbid sense of humour is present. I can only refer to the Lyre of Orpheus song to explain what I mean: “Orpheus went leaping through the fields, Strumming as hard as he did please, Birdies detonated in the sky, Bunnies dashed their brains out on the trees.” The song apparently draws draws heavily on Warren Ellis’ penchant for picking up any instrument he can get his hands on and feeding it through amps and distortion pedals.
The Théâtre de la Mutualité in downtown Paris is an absolute visual gem. It is smallish and intimate, with a large, white tiled lobby, a gilded balcony and a nice, low stage. Sounds good, yes? What’s even better is that queuing for Nick Cave does not require getting in line at 8am, like you have to do for U2. You can just kind of shuffle into the pub across the road and sit down with a glass of wine or a cappuccino. And hey, the support band, Mercury Rev, are there as well, looking very rock star like with shades, suits and pretty girlies.
Later that night, Mercury Rev go down a storm. They only play five or six tracks, but each of them is applauded and cheered very loudly by the French audience. Their lead singer is certainly refreshing and seems to really enjoy the attention he gets. He has a bit of a Jarvis Cocker air around him, with a slight hint of Bowie’s theatrics.
After their set, the audience starts getting more excited about the prospect of Nick entering the stage soon. As I haven’t seen him since his last solo show in Milan earlier this year, I too am getting antsy. Finally the moment is there, and the band hit it off with ‘Abattoir Blues’… There here I am, getting into it, snapping away with my camera, and Nick going all over the stage when there’s just this tiny, little, sickening…
…after which pretty much everything goes dead. I don’t mean just a microphone that doesn’t work anymore, or a guitar that’s gone dodgy. Basically all sound went flat dead. The twelve headed band was looking a little bewildered at each other. The audience kind of wondered what the hell just happened. Whatever it was, it gets fixed almost instantly and Nick laughs it off saying “Seems like we’re in a bit of trouble… That’s one of our more quiet songs”. He grins and makes a second attempt at ‘Abattoir Blues’. The audience takes it well and pretends nothing happened and the groove gets going again, Nick has a Frappuccino in his hand and…
The words that then came of Nick’s mouth… I’ve had to censor them. They were shortly followed by a microphone flying over the stage. They tried other mics, but only the piano seemed to produce the right sound. Eventually, Nick edged to the stage and explained the band would just go off again to fix whatever was broken and see you guys later…
After 30+ minutes of more repair work and more ‘pops’, people started to get a little testy. Then I spotted the tour manager crossing himself on the side of the stage, and I wondered if my little trip to Paris would turn out to be disastrous.
I needn’t have worried. For some in the audience the damage had already been done and the mood never quite recovered, but I deeply respect Nick for the show he managed to put on, and the recovery he made.
Abattoir Blues was scratched from the set list, thankfully, since that song was just jinxed anyway. They played an impressive set of songs off the new album, which works well in the live setting. ‘Supernaturally’ was my personal highlight. I thought the background vocals on the studio recording very, very annoying, but they worked well in concert. I quite enjoyed the almost rap-like feel they gave to ‘Stagger Lee’. ‘Breathless’ cracked me up: Warren made a big show of taking out this shiny silver flute. He prepared to play it, smirking like he does and then went off completely out of tune with Nick holding the mic to him.
After the first break, they reached back to some of their older repertoire, including ‘Deanna’, ‘The Mercy Seat’ and ‘Stagger Lee’ (with extra verse added). ‘The Weeping Song” wasn’t quite the same without Blixa Bargeld. The guitarist left the band last year to focus on his own career with Einstürzende Neubauten, or so the story goes. ‘Red Right Hand’, ‘City of Refuge’, ‘God Is In The House’ were also played and the background singers finished the concert with a beautiful version of ‘New Morning’.
People complain that Nick isn’t as energetic as he used to be in his Birthday Party days, but there’s still plenty of energy left in Nick to enjoy and be amazed by. In fact I enjoyed it so much, I immediately splashed out on a ticket for the Brussels concert, on top of the Amsterdam ticket I already had.
– Current European dates are mostly sold out. They will most likely be followed by a few Australian dates. Check out Mute Records’ website for more details.
– Sydney (AUS) people should pay special attention to the ‘Came So Far For Beauty’ show in the Sydney Opera House, 28 – 30 January. Billed as ‘An Evening of Leonard Cohen Songs’ it has a star studded lineup, including Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, Rufus Wainwright, his mum Martha Wainwright and their cousins, the McGarrigle sisters. Incestuous much? I didn’t even mention him being Loudon Wainwright III’s son…) Beth Orton and the Handsome Family also appear. Each of the above performers are unique, and I’m very jealous of everyone who gets to be there.