A little over ten years ago, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis and their cohorts crashed onto a Dublin stage under the banner of Grinderman and unleashed a maelstrom of manic music like a freak Cirque du Soleil of song. There was an inherent terror to that adrenalised aural thrill.
Now, their prowess tethers an awestruck audience to a leash but trails it along with tenderness through pastures where imagination and reality happily picnic in a blissful sonic séance. For the Carnage tour, the hushed ambience and stages drenched in sepia tones that awaited their gracing were a world away from the raucous past and proof that a decade is a very long meter in the numbered days of a lifetime.
The story of Nick Cave is well known during that period, he has boldly broadcast it himself for the benefit of anyone who cares to listen. Thus, when his gangly frame emerges onto the stage, he carried the aura of a spiritual numen for many of the awed masses in attendance at various scared concert halls all across the UK.
At Far Out, we were lucky enough to catch the Carnage tour on multiple occasions: from The Sage in Newcastle down to London’s Royal Albert Hall. What we witnessed on each and every one of those outings was a show that reaffirmed the saintly magnitude of Nick Cave, Warren Ellis and now, Johnny Hostile, Wendi Rose, T Jae Cole and Janet Ramus who joined them.
The most revered works of art are not always the greatest. Quite often solemnity bludgeons the finer details of life and what we are left with is an overly grand facsimile without any of the filigreed humour, truth and levity. We have all seen these shows — the ones that begin with shivering wonder as someone entreaties the heavens on stage, only for people to start shuffling towards the higher spirits of the bar by the second act. The Carnage show never comes close to this treatment.
Although the concert, in short, is an excision of grief – both in terms of the collective societal response to the pandemic and the other losses and pitfalls we have communally faced, and, likewise, grief on an individual level – it never reaches for reverence in of itself. Instead, Cave, Ellis and the superb ensemble they have gathered aim to bring simple exultation. The result was biblical. Five musicians seem like a symphony orchestra and deliver a wallop of something even heftier than that.
The performances unfurled through the past two albums sporting Cave’s name, with hand-picked petals from the past joining the bouquet. And this tower of song casts a long drawn shadow that welcomes the audience in and makes such beautiful sense of the world that you’re almost understanding of life’s mad unspooling comedy.
The performances were almost unrecognisable from certain previous tours that have gone before in many ways. Much in the same way that all our lives have no doubt changed. This progression and continual reflection of personal and social circumstances embalmed in wonder is what makes Cave perhaps the greatest active songwriter today. In the autumn of his career, he has not only welcomed fans along with him, but clearly, the door is open as many more flock.
Each and every one of them will find themselves wallowed in the welter of actualised emotion that serves up a salve of transcendence. The albums that the Carnage tour primarily drew from reside as spiritual blooms, seeded by the internal marriage of Cave’s sincerity, unfettered candour, the conquering deliverance of creativity itself and the craft of the musicians. However, this triumph over desolation and discerning is transfigured by the humanised beauty of shared experience when basked in live.
Ultimately, Cave and co craft the same “shimmering space” that has always been central to his mantra. As he says while looking out over the moody Brighton seas and bleak, bruised skyline during the finale of 20,000 Days on Earth: “In the end, I’m not interested in that which I fully understand. The words I have written over the years are just a veneer.”
“There are truths that lie beneath the surface of the words… truths that rise up without warning, like the humps of a sea monster and then disappear. What performance and song is to me is finding a way to tempt the monster to the surface, to create a space where the creature can break through what is real and what is known to us. This shimmering space, where imagination and reality intersect… this is where all love and tears and joy exist. This is the place. This is where we live.” Carnage gives audiences the rare chance to feel that.