The Carny may have left town thirty-five years ago, but in its place, lies CARNAGE. CARNAGE is the title of the stunning album by Nick Cave and collaborator/Bad Seed Warren Ellis, recorded during lockdown and released in February of this year. In this skeletal record, Cave’s teeth are once again bared, albeit in a quiet, ominous way – the songs often seem primed, and ready to pounce. This is evinced from the first track, Hand Of God, which, with its sinewy strings and chanted title, seems like an effective companion for the prisoner on Death Row, the protagonist of The Mercy Seat.
These songs, with bursts of siren-like drones and choral voices, are like sprituals for the dispossessed. There’s the usual allegorical quality to Cave’s lyrics, but also a new sense of political outrage. Live, of course, they take on entirely new shapes and textures, particularly thanks to the fiery drumming of Johnny Hostile and amazing backing singers- Wendi Rose, T Jae Cole and Janet Ramus – who bring a slinky gospel influence. Rose’s rich, soulful voice gets to shine solo too, duetting on the molten lullaby Lavender Fields. The aforementioned Hand Of God rages like a furnace, while Cave leads the crowd in an eerie whisper of the title. As ever, though, mischief is never far away. “God, it’s like pantomime in here,” Cave grins after a spirited heckler yells out words of drunken adoration. The response is, inevitably, “Oh, no, it’s not”.
Tonight’s set, then, is an almost greatest hits, torn between the absolutely devastating majesty of personal songs like Ghosteen, and I Need You, which is just Cave, voice cracking at one point, at the piano, and the wild, untamed perverse evangelism of anti-white supremacist song White Elephant and anti-Christian hypocrisy blues howl God is In The House. The fabulous, multi-talented Mr Ellis as ever provides drones, chimes and wild semi-improvised catgut violin, whipping up storms and charm alike. If anyone can save us in these fucked-up times, it’s this amazing band. Can I get an amen?