In a world where most resort to escapism, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis force you to remain grounded and feel it all.
With a voice that echoes with the power of a thousand emotions, Nick Cave and long-time musical collaborator Warren Ellis guide their audience through a haunting and somber set that masterfully possesses each guest, allowing them to fully experience every song as their own.
I left the evening feeling emotionally drained. I laughed, I cried, I got angry. It was a deeply cathartic experience where the audience’s emotions and the emotions of the songs perfectly blended into one, creating a night that felt like an intimate discourse rather than a performance.
As the theater filled, the opening music seemed to drum deeper and louder at each passing moment, growing in intensity almost as a forewarning of the magnitude of the show to come.
The noisy theater went instantaneously quiet with anticipation when Nick Cave and Warren Ellis took the stage.
SHRINE AUDITORIUM & EXPO HALL
Los Angeles, California
Behind them was a stripped-down stage filled only with warming spotlights. Three vocalists, T Jae Cole, Janet Rasmus, and Wendi Rose, along with multi-instrumentalist Johnny Hostile; no gimmicks, no extra frills, no unnecessary nonsense that would take away attention from the music.
With a career spanning about four decades, the evening focused on the later years, giving fans a rare and welcomed chance to experience three of his most intimate and introspective albums: “The Skeleton Tree,” “Ghosteen,” and Cave’s latest collaboration with Warren Ellis, “Carnage,” which was released in February 2021 and recorded during the COVID lockdown. These three releases seem to complete each other, giving listeners an uncensored and delicately-balanced voyage through loss, pain, despair, and hope that sums up the human experience, allowing fans to relate to his music in a very profound and personal way.
This sentiment accompanied me throughout the evening as the performance seemed to reach each fan individually rather than as something projected onto a large audience. This is, and has always been, the greatest talent Cave possesses as a front-man and storyteller; he can fill an arena and somehow speak to you personally and leave you feeling as if no one else is around you.
They started the evening with “Spinning Song,” and at the end of the song, Cave’s words echoed in my head for a while – “You can love something you can’t grab” – especially because yesterday would have been my dad’s 73rd birthday. That line served as a welcomed reminder that a person is never fully gone and love is never lost.
They followed with “Bright Horses,” my favorite song from “Ghosteen;” a song that depicts a world of tyranny and political failure that at times feels more like reality than fantasy, but that rather than spiraling into despair guides you through it toward the possibility of salvation.
They continued the evening with the song “Ghosteen,” then moved onto “Carnage,” the title track from his latest release with Ellis.
The tempo of the evening dramatically changed with “White Elephant,” which brought an intensity to the show reminiscent of the early era of “Stagger Lee.” I often compare the two songs, describing “White Elephant” as the politically charged modern version of Cave’s classic “Stagger Lee” where Cave takes his not-so-subtle jab at the far-right movement that has resurfaced around the globe. This song is raw, severe, and almost as extreme as the views it stands against. A pure guttural response to today’s society that was perfectly matched by the power of Cave’s vocals and the almost angry movements of his body as he sang the song. A performance that left the room silent and in awe.
After “Ghosteen” came “Lavender Fields,” which Cave beautifully performed with vocalist Wendy Rose. “Waiting for You” was followed with Cave at his grand piano performing “I Need You,” a song that always has me unable to hold back tears.
“Cosmic Dancer” was another huge highlight for me. I think it was the combination of Cave’s solemn voice accompanied by Ellis’ almost “renaissance-esque” minstrel-like mannerism as he played the violin. It turned this into a moment of pure musical bliss that sent chills up my spine. This is my favorite T-Rex song and they made it their own.
It is hard to pick highlights out of a set where every song is a highlight on its own, perfectly and strategically placed in a well thought out setlist that moves you, never leaving a dull moment. What I can say is that the magic of hearing “Henry Lee,” a song to which the audience responded with cheers and a sometimes out of tune and sing-a-long was only topped by the surprise appearance of Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers.
He appeared onstage during the second encore of the evening and performed “We Know Who U R” alongside the band. Where else but in Los Angeles would you see Flea sharing the stage with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis?!
It is very difficult to put into words how beautiful it is to experience Nick Cave and Warren Ellis sharing a stage for an evening. I feel words aren’t quite enough to describe the chemistry between the two and how it colors the air. The subtle gestures between the two, Cave’s chuckling at Ellis’ quirky stage mannerisms, their closeness (at one point Cave turned to Ellis and said, “Warren, you beautiful cluster of molecules.”) creates a feeling of almost being privy to a private moment among friends, leaving you a little bit more in love with the two.