I was out of place and time, and over the hill, and out of my mind

 Nick Cave – Colosseum Theater, Essen; January 23rd, 2020

‘Conversations with Nick Cave’ was a lot of what I had hoped for and at the same time some of what I had feared. Having first hear about it some time last year, I liked the idea, but never thought it would be a place for me. It is a wonderful opportunity for fans to ask questions to their hero for sure, but what would I be doing there? Not very familiar with his work, I feared I’d feel out of place, but after the show in 2017 I’d been waiting for a chance to see him again and this was it. Listening to other people ask questions wouldn’t hurt, right? I truly enjoyed being there and at the best moments it was a beautiful conversations, where connections were made with he audience. At other times it was somewhat cringworthy and despite Nick asking us not to judge, I could not help but feeling second hand embarrassment. He was really kind though, taking the time for everyone, showing compassion, doing his best to answer any questions and requests, no matter how strange they might have seemed. And that was all that mattered in the end.

It’s an interesting idea and a daring one to go out on stage, play a few songs and allow your listeners, your fans, to ask you anything in-between. I’d be too scared to get questions I’d be unable or unwilling to answer, but then again, giving interviews throughout his career, he has probably heard it all. Not to mention he must have a lot of practice. 😉 whatever people threw at him, he handled it wonderfully, just ging with the flow. It was a powerful show, with some deep insights into his thoughts and a lot of great Songs as well.

The performance started in complete darkness with ‘Steve McQueen’ playing from tape, setting the right mood. The entire theater grew quiet, listening… until it was rudely interrupted by the bell ringing to indicate the show was about to start – really, Colosseum Theater, you could not have done that before I actually started? The most annoying part was that it didn’t only ring once, but twice, instantly killing the mood. 🙁 Nick sat down at the piano and played ‘God is on the House’ for us. The lights went back on and while the last few people were trying to find their seats, Nick walked out and explained how this was going to work. Any questions were allowed, the stranger, the better and the rest of the audience should not be judgmental, so everyone could feel comfortable when asking. There were helpers in he hall with microphones, who would come and assist people if they raised their hands for questions. He then helped a guy find his seat, pointing out an empty one, told us to “have a think” while he played a song.

‘The Weeping Song’ was perfect for me to get my concentration back, forget the distraction of the bell ringing and people having trouble finding their seats and get into the mood again. I knew I would not have any questions to ask, but was ready to listen to anyone who did. It can’t have been easy for the first person to raise their hand, get up, take the microphone and ask something. Nick had said he’d take requests too and he did, so it was fine that the first person didn’t actually have a question. He asked for a really beautiful song too and got it – ‘Into my Arms’. <3 From then on, almost everyone had a request and why not? It doesn’t happen every day that you have influence on the setlist. Luckily, most people had questions too and some I found really interesting.

He did not play all requests, but many of them and for most he didn’t play there was an explanation, sometimes serious like saying it would not work without the band, sometimes less so like just claiming it was too old. One song, some old B-Side, he genuinely did not remember. Early on he also told us that it would be better if we did not clap after every answer, because he would value judge them by the amount of clapping, which would get less during the night just because we’d grow tired. Made perfect sense to me.

Someone noted that Nick’s performance had changed over the years and wanted to know how he looked back at his work. He answered that he felt it was their job to challenge the audience and since the band had changed over the years, of course the music and performance had and that is the way it should be. We heard a few things about his writing process during the night, for example that he finds himself reaching for something that is beyond what we know and feels a creative energy he loses himself in when writing songs.

Many people described their relationship with his music and what certain songs mean to them. Nick, when asked about it, responded the he likes staying neutral and leaving the emotions to his audience. Generally his response was warm and and open to whatever people threw at him. If he wasn’t sure what people meant, he made sure to clarify. It’s basic rules of conversations really, but so often we assume without asking back or making sure we have understood so this felt really nice. should artists be responsible for what the audience make of their music, e.g. have trigger warnings? He replied that he finds music inclusive of all kind of ideas that can lead to all kinds of reactions and feelings and that he believes musicians would all be in deep trouble if they were worried about who their music might be offending. “Could you play ‘Mermaids’ for me?” “No, it’s obscene!” *laughter* and of course he played it and it was brilliant. 😀

Everyone laughed when he said the hard to reach thing on his bucket list was seeing Elvis Presley live. Someone wanted to know what he listened to when he was 16 and he told us how your relationship with music changes over the years, but is something special when you are young, and at that age Leonard Cohen gave a name to the feeling he had inside – “songs reflect back at your own soul in some kind of way”. Then he played us a gorgeous version of Cohen’s ‘Avalanche’. I loved the song selection overall. I knew very few of them, but enjoyed each one.

A woman shared the story of the death of her son and asked Nick how it was for him after his son died and how he found perspective again afterwards. “You are robbed of all meaning due to the capacity of your loss. At one time you have a choice to crumble up or continue living. That choice may not be available to you now, but will come eventually. It has something to do with defiance…” It was really beautifully put, caring and very gentle.   We came back to that again later, when someone spoke about ‘Skeleton Tree’ as an album trying to give meaning to the loss of his son and wondered why he spoke so little about his son in all this. Nick felt he would not do justice to his son if he wrote about him directly. Instead he tried to write about something that effects us all. When asked if his relationship with the audience had changed after the death of his son he responded that he got a lot back from people and he realized that we all are the same when we suffer and can rise above it. What he thought he was supposed to be fell apart and turned into something new then.

Overall I got a sense of the questions he enjoyed and the ones he didn’t, but he was mostly subtle about that. Only from time to time, when it seemed like we might get stuck with no questions at all, he pointed out that he was trying to entertain people. What shone through everything was letting people be and “each to there own” came up a few times. He spoke about modern day artists he liked “I am sick of safe music”, his literary influences and the things he missed about being younger. Yet, he pointed out that he had a long time of being young and that with growing older life beyond Rock ‘n’ Roll became more meaningful. Regarding playing smaller places in the early years and his concerts changing he felt he could still made connections, even in big halls.

Asked if it was important to know musicians backgrounds to understand their music, he said it was inspiring to know how they had arrived at certain points, but music could also live on its own. At one point he spoke about what a huge loss it was for the Bad Seeds when Blixa Bargeld left and later explained how he had been very decisive, things were either “good” or “shit” and there was no grey area, which had been helpful in the recording process.
Another question was if he felt predominantly like an artists or a husband and father these days and he answered it was the latter, telling us how as an artist you tend to put that first and everything else has to live beneath, it is “a selfish occupation”. Yet lately he didn’t feel that any more and has more conviction is his writing since.

It made me happy that someone asked for ‘The Ship Song’ since I had heard Amanda play it in Stockholm and I liked hearing the original now. Someone asked about moments that made him happy and he kept coming back to that, because he had not been able to answer with one particular thing when she asked him – I felt he was making fun of it and taking the question seriously at the same time. There were a few moments like that, but it felt always OK to me and more like commenting than putting people on the spot. One of the mentioned causes of happiness was when Johnny Cash covered ‘The Mercy Seat’. We heard that Nick feels has become more tolerant over the years and more understanding of other people. Also, he can’t tell whether a song is good or not. Some lyrics may be important to him and fail and others may feel liek just done quickly and work well. He said that is where the anxiety of songwriting lies.

It was after two and a half hours that he wound it down and told us he’d answers a few more questions and play a few more songs and the we could go home. The last question he answered was about how it feels knowing that his music and art touches people. He feels that music has a great power to make people feel things and music is one of the places where we can still reach beyond ourselves and transcend limits. It was a perfect final word. We got to hear two more songs and then he came back for an encore, including ‘Stagger Lee’, the song he had mentioned earlier as offending pretty much everyone. After ‘Skeleton Tree’ he stayed to sign things, but I wanted to leave that to the fans and left, happy to have been there. It was a beautiful evening.

Setlist

Intro (Steve McQueen) – tape
God Is in the House
The Weeping Song
Into My Arms
Mermaids
Avalanche (Leonard Cohen cover)
The Mercy Seat
Higgs Boson Blues
Waiting for You
Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry
Jubilee Street
The Ship Song
Palaces of Montezuma (Grinderman song)
(Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?
Shivers (The Boys Next Door song)
Cosmic Dancer (T. Rex cover)

Encore:
Stagger Lee
Skeleton Tree

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