Okay, this is the third window of this Musical Advent that doesn’t have an album behind it. I hear you – it’s supposed to be an Album of the Year type feature. This is tantamount to cheating, the masses cry. Yeah, whatever. So sue me. Besides, Idiot Prayer is kind of an album now, so I’m justified. Anyway, this was the single most special musical moment of the year, so it’s in.
In my eyes, Nick Cave is a God. Nothing less. I’ve been fortunate to see him live on several occasions. Last year, I witnessed his intimate and personal Conversations event, which turned out to be a pretty useful dress rehearsal for the Idiot Prayer show. One man and a grand piano. Of course, back then, there was an extraordinary Q&A interchange with the audience between songs. This year, he had no audience. He was supposed to have one. Like many others, I held tickets to see him and the Bad Seeds perform in Spring 2020. Then, covid.
By way of some kind of compensation, Cave took a decision to play a concert like no other. He booked out the magnificent halls of London’s Alexandra Palace and rented a Fazioli grand piano which sounded as wonderful as the birth of the universe itself. (Cave tells a very funny story concerning the piano that you should check out in his Red Hand Files).
The concert was recorded and broadcast to the world on the evening of 23rd July 2020. I was a very, very lucky boy. Because I was asked to review it for Louder Than War, I was invited to a screening of the performance forty-eight hours before the rest of the world. Today, one hundred and forty-five days later, that still feels very special.
I did my very best to review it against a very tight deadline. I truly hope I did it justice. I’m certainly not going to repeat my words from July here again. I just want to say that it was momentous. It was an eclectic set that comprised a few obvious favourites, albeit with a twist, and several surprises. A beautiful mix. Palaces of Montezuma was an intimate caress, The Mercy Seat shamanic. Higgs Boson Blues was emotive and spellbinding. Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry was transformed, yet still as dark as midnight.
I recall every moment. One in particular sticks in my mind. Towards the end of (Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For, Cave hits a duff chord. As it finishes, he pauses, smiles and softly laughs. It’s an incredibly warm and human moment where, for one fleeting moment, you feel that he is playing this set just for you.
Understandably, Cave has subsequently chosen to allow people to stream the performance or buy it on vinyl or CD. And if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen or heard this performance, I implore you to do so. Yet, despite my recommendation, I must confess that I have never watched or listened to this performance since that night I watched the pre-screening. I don’t want anything to take away the moment, which, for me, only exists in one fleeting period of time. Perhaps one day I will. Until then, I rely on my memories.
Photos by Joel Ryan