We will never feel as close as yesterday to having Nick Cave in our living room. The Australian troubadour, author of some of the most moving prayers uttered by human beings during the last seven decades, decided a few weeks ago to combat the miseries of the coronavirus with a concert in streaming, recorded live under cinematic standards and on a setting as noble as London’s Alexandra Palace. The result is Idiot Prayer, a solo piano recital that could be seen last night and only last night (at nine o’clock, Spanish peninsular time), in an exclusive, unique experience format.
As instantaneous and unrepeatable as it was, if anyone remembers it from yesteryear, attending a concert. 86 minutes of Cave without filters, the 88 black and white keys in front of his hands, 21 songs devoid of presentations or parliaments, the screen as the only element of separation between him and us. The computer, for once, as an unmistakable source of pleasure.
Nick Cave is the dissector of our own soul, the notary of our anguish. A seeker of beauty
Faced with the involuntary ugliness that has spread (or viralized) the pandemic, that avalanche of live broadcasts on social networks that were born of the most beautiful generosity to end up sharpening, like a mirror, the very desolation of the tragedy, Cave has managed to find a formula satisfactory communication through plasma. Three months after his visits to Madrid and Barcelona (April 25 and 26) were frustrated by this first great warning of the apocalypse, the man in black gives us a concert recorded in rigorous direct, as real as if we could scrutinize from any from the corners of the Alexandra. With tickets at 17 euros. And a fascinating realization by Irishman Robbie Ryan, the cinematographer of The favourite.
Ryan portrays him – elegant, parsimonious, surrounded by his everlasting aura of mystery – as he approaches the piano in the middle of the immense and desolate bare living room. The voice-over corresponds to Cave himself as he recites his Spinning Song (“Peace will come, and peace will come, and peace will come in time”). That same solemn parsimony will guide the movements of the camera, an orgy of short, medium and overhead shots, a razor-sharp portrait of a man who combines –it will be a matter of green eyes– emotion and enigma.
It requires a, let’s say, a certain militancy in the cause of our “Elvis of Hell” to enter the universe of Idiot Prayer, stripped of the garb of his Bad Seeds, reduced all to deep and poignant nudity, but surely difficult for the uninitiated. Because our man from the antipodes is not an accommodating melodist, much less a pianist who loves vertigo and digital flourish. Rather, he is the dissector of our own soul, the notary of our anguish. A seeker of beauty who on many occasions, even caressing her, has had before to turn our hearts black.
The singer does not reach, or does not want to reach at all, the highest notes, which crack in his throat and end up nailing us in the pit of the stomach. It’s fabulous. It’s shocking
All of this is more palpable in the melee between the officiant and the spectator that this document fosters, already beautiful in its staging: the light filtered through the large windows, the wide bands of darkness, the nakedness on the fingers of the right hand in front of the succession of rings that adorn the left hand. Close-ups of Cave’s pages, now on the lectern, now scattered on the floor. Surely Nick would be the kind of crooner that he would love to draw Caravaggio if the good old Milanese had succeeded in being born four centuries later.
We can specify that there are no scores: only the letters with their harmonic tabs. There are no interferences, apart from the fact that in some general shot the director wants to give us the silhouettes of the cameramen located near the instrument. There are no major events or accidents to review, regardless of the fact that some junk creaks or falls out of plane at the beginning of (Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For and that Nick celebrates the final chord of that performance with a little laugh. There are songs and more songs, from the first to the twenty-first. Just songs. Nothing less than great songs.
The selection of the repertoire will undoubtedly be the subject of dissection among the parishioners. The great winner of the evening is, by far, The Boatman’s Call (1997), that treatise on love ups and downs and existential uncertainties, which contributes no less than six pages to the definitive list; among others, the title track itself, very little disclosed. Into My Arms and above all, Far From Me they are decisive moments in the recital. But the real shock is inevitably registered when Nicholas Edward arrives in Waiting For You, that creepy sob from Ghosteen (2019) in memory of the tragically deceased son. The singer does not reach, or does not want to reach at all, the highest notes, which crack in his throat and end up nailing us in the pit of the stomach. It’s fabulous. It is also shocking.
It is the only time that Cave – at times Scott Walker, at times David Bowie – opts for dry and non-arpeggiated chords. This man’s piano can also be a badly injured animal
Perhaps to underline the tragedy, the piece gives way to The Mercy Seat and that end of the sentence in which the interpreter bleeds out, muttering: “I’m not afraid to die.” The possible imminence of death also surfaces in Higgs Boson Blues, another of the passages in which our brain ignores the urgent need to breathe. It is the only time that Cave – at times Scott Walker, at times David Bowie – opts for dry and non-arpeggiated chords. This man’s piano can also be a badly injured animal.
The eleventh cut of the selection is, attention, an unpublished piece, Euthanasia, of which we knew nothing: not even if it comes from the recordings of Ghosteen, which could well be, or if it will feature on an upcoming official album. There are two forays into Grinderman’s repertoire (Palaces of Montezuma Y Man On The Moon), always something lighter than the Bad Seeds. And, finally, by not stopping at each case, we cannot ignore even the manifest beauty of Nobody’s Baby Now nor the most fortunate recovery of He Wants You, of the disk Nocturama, a work that had not appeared in his public appearances since 2013. There is also a hint of trembling, fragile voice in it. Of collapsed humanity. From Nick Cave.
In the end, after Galleon Ship, second and last stop in Ghosteen, the Australian gets up and crosses the room, slowly and hesitantly, toward the half-open, bright door at the back. The final three minutes of credits do not add a single additional note, not even the slightest typographical flourish. We do not need distractions at that time. Our brain has enough to process what our retinas have just given us.