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By LAWRENCE MANN
The stage was lit beautifully. A flood of lights highlighted the piano, with a few directed at a bass cabinet. Smoke machines gave a foggy, London night feel. It was simplicity at its best.
Nick Cave, accompanied by only Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood, performed Friday night at the Orpheum Theatre, bringing to life songs from his vast catalog and offering attendees a look inside the songs. On the first of two sold-out nights at the downtown L.A. venue, the 66-year-old singer-songwriter gave the history of his compositions– sometimes dark, sometimes humorous, usually both.
Greenwood’s tasteful bass notes made you feel that you were at a small jazz club. The sound quality was incredible, even quite loud for simply piano, bass and vocals, though quiet in comparison to the crowd’s applause.
The crack in Cave’s vocal delivery on “Galleon Ship” added to the beauty and fragility of the lyrics. That song was followed by the melancholic “Euthanasia,” a song he reported was never recorded because the band thought it was bad. They were wrong, he added. (It was since recorded and released in 2020.) When the duo ended “O Children,” even Greenwood clapped at Cave’s performance.
“I Need You” (2016) was especially compelling. It felt more heartbreaking and haunting than in the past. The repetitive, rapid-fire, nearly breathless ending lyrics, “Just breathe, just breathe, just breathe,” over and over and over, drove the point home.
For “Balcony Man,” he asked the members of the audience in the balcony to scream every time they heard the word balcony. The crowd participation worked to great effect. Cave told the audience that “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” was written during a difficult political time in Brazil in 1990. The song was also used as a lullaby for his son Luke. Hence the rocking beat.
The following songs were hit after hit: “(Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?,” “The Mercy Seat,” “Jubilee Street” and “The Weeping Song.” Cave then dedicated “Into Your Arms” to his wife, Susie. The entire room stood and applauded. The duo ended the main set with “Push the Sky Away” before returning for a seven-song encore.
Audience members kept shouting song titles. Cave responded, “We can do that.” More requests, then, “We can do that too!” After playing the requested “Mermaids,” they performed “Palaces Of Montezuma” from Cave’s side project, Grinderman. That was followed by the Rowland S. Howard-penned song “Shivers.” Howard had written the song when he was 16 and playing in the band The Boys Next Door with Cave.
Another highlight among many was a cover of T. Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer.” He told the crowd that Marc Bolan was a huge influence for him, and a very underrated lyricist.
In all, the audience ate it all up, having been taken on a two-hour journey that included music from his original band, the Bad Seeds, side projects and influences. The stories behind the songs gave them more impact, and the Orpheum Theatre, in all its splendor made the night all that more special.
Photos by Stevo Rood / ARood Photo