mon 10/08/2020

Nick Cave, Alone at Alexandra Palace review - mournful beauty from the king of misery | reviews, news & interviews

Nick Cave, Alone at Alexandra Palace review - mournful beauty from the king of misery

Nick Cave, Alone at Alexandra Palace review - mournful beauty from the king of misery

A stripped back set is the perfect setting for Cave's lyricism

Dramatic minimalism: Nick Cave's showmanship is stripped back, but not goneJoel Ryan

"Alone at Alexandra Palace" is a gift of this time, no compensation but some sort of balm to a world that is still so interior, with a long time to wait until any concerts can resume. The film begins with an emphasis on aloneness that is sustained throughout, Cave reading a fairytale-like story as the soundtrack to his walk through the black and gold of the empty Alexandra Palace.

Surrounded by a pool of sheet music, his grand piano stands in the middle of the space, lit with an almost nostalgic warmth. In contrast, the songs themselves, even when they are more major than minor, are inflected with a funereal mournfulness that feels appropriate to the time. This film comes about two months after he was due to play two concerts at the O2, and there is more than a sense of it being in some way an elegy for the live music industry.

This is Cave stripped down to the deliciousness of his rich voice, and the clarity of his piano. However, the songs which could be made for this space, "Into My Arms" in particular, feel almost trite. The pieces that stand out are those that are usually showpieces for his band, The Bad Seeds, or his side project, Grinderman. "Palaces of Montezuma" is particularly beautiful without the rousing accompaniment of instruments, and this lack of instrumentation foregrounds the genius of his lyrics. The inflection of sadness and loneliness that tinges all of his work is thrown into sharp focus here, sung by one man alone. His loneliness is redoubled by the vast emptiness of the space, and there in his face in "Man in the Moon", when the cold blue-white light makes it look as if he is crying.

A moment of comic relief only comes at the end of "(Are you) the One that I’ve Been Waiting For", when he grins playing the wrong note. In between some songs, we see him rearranging his sheet music with be-ringed hands, annotating and shuffling. A glimpse is seen of two cameramen, but this only serves to emphasise how small he is in the huge West Hall. 

Cave is known for his showmanship, and although he is necessarily curtailed by circumstance, the dramatic minimalism of this setting is perfect for an expressive face, and such powerfully emotional songs. He played "Girl in Amber" early on, and its presence on "Skeleton Tree", with the proximity to the death of his son, is there in the sorrowful howl of his voice. "The Mercy Seat" is one of a few songs which are a pure shout of anger and bitterness, a contrast to the triumphalism of "Jubilee Street". His lyrics are so resonant and so mournful that it can almost feel a bit overcooked (for example, the rasped "I'm tired, I'm tired" of "Higgs Boson Blues"), but he pulls it all back in again with his voice, and his clear immersion in every song that he sings.

A great touch was "Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry", towards the end of the set, harking back to 1992 and a youthful Cormac McCarthy-like macabre. The songs are almost all run into one another, given very little breathing space, but their unique strength saves the concert from feeling homogenous.

There is a messianic quality to Cave and to his music, emphasised and also undercut by the conclusion to the piece. There is no applause, no standing ovation, no encores. Instead, a bandy-legged man makes his way into the light of a door at the edge of the stage, and silence falls.

The dramatic minimalism of this setting is perfect for an expressive face, and such powerfully emotional songs

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters