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Review: Nick Cave, Hall One, Sage Gateshead

'Occasionally playful, often witty, this is very likely the artist at the peak of his powers'. Australian icon was on the toppermost form on Tyneside

Mick Burgess Nick Cave put an audience at Sage Gateshead under his spell
Nick Cave put an audience at Sage Gateshead under his spell

Every Nick Cave review might begin with The Mercy Seat.

Which is why they probably shouldn’t but the damage is done.

Tonight’s version of this, his masterpiece, is delivered solo with piano; it is monstrous, tense, claustrophobic, unbearable almost, as words and panic come tumbling out.

Dense with biblical allusions, it depicts the fervid indignation of a prisoner approaching the electric chair full of “truth and consequence”. It is the black hole at the heart of this evening’s performance and the throne from which all of Cave’s history does unfold.

But don’t be misled by the terror.

This show has Cave more relaxed than I’ve ever seen him; a (sort of) sing-along here, an audience member dragged up on stage there. Really.

Occasionally playful, often witty, this is very likely the artist at the peak of his powers.

Ultra-confident (not that he’s ever been shy of conviction), he dallies through the highlights of his canon with a showmanship that is bewitching.

Mick Burgess Nick Cave at Sage Gateshead
Nick Cave at Sage Gateshead

Though for all of the stagecraft, this is really about the words.

Cave once recalled how, aged 19, after the early death of his father, he realised he was using language to “write God into existence”. He sought the divine through the love song; not always romantic love, but songs of longing.

This longing infuses all of his work and explains how this purveyor of the most beautiful, delicate, simple songs - The Weeping Song, The Ship Song, Brompton Oratory and Into My Arms are some of tonight’s most gorgeous examples - also boasts wicked works spewing rage, ribaldry, venom, filth and fury.

Water’s Edge starts the show then soon the comedy gothic of Red Right Hand, before the front three rows stand, as if under a spell, for Higgs Boson Blues, a song citing both Robert Johnson and Miley Cyrus. I can’t think of anybody else who would even try it. It could be Dylan in his heyday.

Then he steps (on heads? seats? nobody cared) into but above the crowd. “Can you feel my heart beat?” he ­sings, at once furious, charming, messianic and imperious.

A beguiling Mermaids takes us gliding through deep seas and From Her to Eternity is ferocious.

During another of his finest hours – the beautifully ironic God Is In The House, scything through small town church hypocrisy – he invites us to join in. “The choruses, I mean – the verses are very complex,” he quips, correctly. He squeezes Newcastle and Gateshead into the lyrics too, one of a number of genuinely funny moments.

For The Lyre of Orpheus – he hauls a man on stage to scream “O Mamma” back at him. Cave points in his face, lankily malevolent and I think he might turn him to stone.

Most albums get a look in, with a host from his latest, Push The Sky Away, the title track forming his second encore and it is blissful. There’s a lot of death amid the love tonight, but in this song he urges us all to resist it and anything else that might stagnate.

Tonight, we heard many magical words and a creative force so strong I imagine the air over the empty stage now has a Cave shaped hole in it.

I’m pretty sure you won’t see a better show this year.


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