Concert Review: Nick Cave — Frisky and Compelling

By Paul Robicheau

Love and lightness (if often at intersections with death and faith) filtered through many of the songs in Nick Cave’s sonically naked “solo” concert.

Nick Cave and Colin Greenwood at Boch Center – Wang Theatre. Photo: Paul Robicheaiu

“Give us a murder ballad,” a man barked from the back of the Boch Center-Wang Theatre on Tuesday night. “I already have,” Nick Cave replied, “like most of the songs…”

Indeed, while Cave — singing from a grand piano — didn’t play anything specifically from 1996’s Murder Ballads by his goth-blues outfit the Bad Seeds, he inhabited his share of melancholy, harrowing tales across his two hours at center stage.

Yet love and lightness (if often at intersections with death and faith) also filtered through many of the songs in Cave’s sonically naked “solo” concert, where he was accompanied for the most part by Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood on bass guitar.

Those tunes included obvious favorite “Into My Arms,” the nugget “Love Letter” (about the risks in asking, played by request of a fan up front who took the risk), and the new “To Be Found,” described by Cave as a “little song” that was greeted with silence from the Bad Seeds. Its seemingly saccharine use of morning dew and silent evening skies to declare “I know that I will always love you” made one prone to side with the Seeds, but the song softly built to the resonating final lyric, “And the sun, it rises, and turns to you and me, in order to be found.”

Nick Cave at the Boch Center – Wang Theatre. Photo: Paul Robicheau

Given free reign, the Australian-born singer mixed such quieter tunes with crowd-pleasers, jump-started by a jaunty “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” — pausing mid-song only to rekindle with Greenwood’s bass — and “Balcony Man,” where Cave encouraged fans in the upper tier to shout to each mention of the title. But his interactions with the audience were mostly short and playful — as were his song explanations, making the performance only a bit more like a previous Q&A-styled tour with fan conversations than Cave’s quarantine-themed “Idiot Prayer” concert.

The stark (and simply cross-lit) setting accented a focus on Cave’s sonorous baritone, which gave him ample opportunity to alter his rhythmic, lyrical, and emotional delivery in ways both frisky and compelling. He moved from the cautionary “O Children” (the Bad Seeds’ most streamed Spotify track, thanks to a Harry Potter film placement) to “I Need You,” where he repeated “Just breathe” down to a hushed pursing of his lips.

Greenwood lent subtle support to Cave’s piano with well-placed notes, adding escalating emphasis to “Jesus of the Moon” (after a false start that they laughed about) and taking occasional steps toward the piano and back toward his amp again. He sometimes joined fans in just watching Cave at the piano, resting hands across his bass to stand in the shadows for such statement pieces as “The Mercy Seat” (the audience silent throughout, as Cave sped up and slowed down his trademark account of a man facing execution) and “The Weeping Song,” which rode insular dynamics over bassy blocks of chords. In the wake of those classics, Cave swept a hand toward the crowd to call out each song title like a carnival barker, an impish nod to their supposed import. After “The Weeping Song,” one fan even shouted, “Do it again!”

The singer didn’t have to consider such a gambit with a pending run of “Jubilee Street” (a surging rumination on a prostitute who “had a little black book and my name was written on every page”), “Into My Arms” and “Push the Sky Away,” its melodic uplift bringing the main set to a close.

A six-song encore was more open-ended, starting with the tour’s debut of the water-evoking “Mermaids,” while a stately “Palaces of Montezuma” reworked a track from his garage-punk side project Grinderman. Cave also dug into his earliest roots with humble tributes to ex-bandmates who died young. He played “Shivers” by the Boys Next Door, the precursor to his infamously violent outlet the Birthday Party, saluting guitarist Rowland S. Howard for writing that 1979 song at age 16. And the singer gave credit to co-founding Bad Seeds mate Anita Lang for writing “Stranger Than Kindness,” which he described as “really my favorite Bad Seeds song.”

The encore fell a tune or two short of recent shows in New York (“The Ship Song” or “God Is in the House” would have been sweet), even when Cave followed a bow with Greenwood to tack on “People Ain’t No Good.” Ah, so much for hope.

After his Q&As with fans at the Boch Shubert Theatre in 2018, a small group with Bad Seeds violin foil Warren Ellis at the Wang last year, and now this so-called solo show, one real hope is that Cave will finally return to wrap the full Bad Seeds around his songs in Boston for the first time since 2017. That ensemble had already grown more minimalist in recent years, but it remains the most complete vehicle for Cave’s shamanistic vigor.

Paul Robicheau served more than 20 years as contributing editor for music at the Improper Bostonian in addition to writing and photography for the Boston Globe, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He was also the founding arts editor of Boston Metro.


  1. David Daniel on October 14, 2023 at 8:06 am

    Good review! The kind that satisfies a reader who knows Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds–as well as one who is totally un-hipped about the artist and his music. Glad to read about Colin Greenwood’s involvement, too.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts