Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave alone at Alexandra Palace
Many of 2020’s livestreamed lockdown concerts were “from my home to yours”-type DIY affairs. Think lo-fi phone recordings, slightly blurry footage, home DJ sets for two-person lounge discos. But Nick Cave? No way. This is a man who can transform the most banal story into a dramatic spectacle with one finger on a piano key. Instead, the revered Australian-born, England-dwelling artist went large, recording a lavish solo performance at London’s Alexandra Palace. There were no Bad Seeds—not even Warren Ellis—no audience, no applause, no antics. Just Cave, an extraordinary Fazioli, and, for those who experienced the livestream, stirring cinematography by Oscar nominee Robbie Ryan. No one said intimacy had to be simple.
Nick Cave’s storytelling conjures feelings that are often as impactful, if not more so, when experienced alone as they are among a sold-out crowd. Likewise, his performance here—profoundly isolated within this enormous, extravagant concert hall—is every bit as beautiful as his full-band shows. It was recorded in June 2020 and streamed on July 23 at three specific times, to account for fans tuning in across the world. It was a desperately needed, appreciated gift (albeit one marred by technical glitches) for Cave diehards stuck indoors. The set list played into this, with 21 songs stretching into the depths of his long career, from 1986 deep cuts “Stranger Than Kindness” and “Sad Waters” through to “Girl in Amber,” from his heartbreaking 2016 record Skeleton Tree, and “Galleon Ship,” from 2019’s Ghosteen, as well as a new song, “Euthanasia.” He even threw in Grinderman’s “Palaces of Montezuma” for good measure. And while the tender songs are always deeply affecting, many of the most enthralling moments came from the formerly raucous songs, now completely transformed. “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry,” which originally lay somewhere between rockabilly and punk, here becomes a soft, melancholy ballad. And without its frantic pulse and driving guitars, “The Mercy Seat” is somber and almost painfully emotional.