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Conversations With Nick Cave, Birmingham Symphony Hall - review

By Harry Leather | Music | Published:

Intimacy would not ordinarily define an evening spent watching a best-selling international artist in a 2,000-seat venue.

Nick Cave is playing nine 'Conversation With' dates across the UK

But Nick Cave is no ordinary artist.

The gaunt, gangly Australian turned Birmingham Symphony Hall into the front room of a cosy pub on Monday evening for what was the second of nine 'Conversations With' events across the UK.

The format is simple enough: a mixture of music and conversation, with anybody in the audience able to ask a question and no subject matter off limits.

As Cave explained, it's an extension of The Red Hand Files, where fans are able to write directly to him with "questions or comments, observations or inspirations". He receives around 50 a day and reads every one.

And despite, in the words of Cave, the idea of standing up and asking a question being "f***ing terrifying", there was no shortage of audience members also keen to interact - with ushers ready to provide microphones throughout the four-storey hall. Unsurprisingly the subject matter varied drastically, as did the length, quality and coherence of the comments.

Deeply personal questions about grief and addiction mixed with songwriters seeking advice and one thick Brummie accent asking whether Cave would support Villa or Blues ("are they football teams?" he replied).

Some answers were brief, some joking, while others were deep, searching and verging on counselling.

It was the sharp response to one elaborate question asking what 23-year-old Cave would say to his current self, and vice versa, which brought one of the loudest laughs of the night: "Can I borrow fifty quid?" "No".

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Appropriately, Cave also revealed the effect Peaky Blinders has had on his popularity.

"F***ing Birmingham," he first replied when asked about the show, before confirming he is actually a big fan and is pleased that it's led to new fans accessing his music.

From the moment the lights dimmed and the whispering poem Steve McQueen played over the soundsystem you felt you were in for a special evening. And so it played out.

In a month dominated by wannabe-prime ministers trying too hard to 'connect', it was refreshing to spend the night in the company of a man who is so genuinely engaging and honest - and has one heck of a voice.

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The uninterrupted two hours and 40 minutes flew by as Cave strode back and forth across the stage, sporadically returning to a piano surrounded by audience members with closer-than-front-row seats.

The gorgeous lighting added to the intimacy of the occasion: lanterns on the stage tables sat in front of curtains illuminated by a colour that changed for each song. And all with the stunning backdrop of the 65-foot tall organ pipes.

The songs were varied and the lack of a backing band provided a hypnotic, naked version of Cave's already-intimate verses.

Covers of Leonard Cohen's Avalanche (a song which led Cave to having an awakening) and T Rex featured alongside Into My Arms, God is in The House and Stagger Lee (one he always relishes performing but usually leaves out of 'Conversations With' events, he revealed). No more than two songs were played without a break for questions.

The beauty of the format means fans can return over and over and no performance will be the same. Cave was happy to tailor the set list based off requests and, instead of providing individuals with a personal message chose to play them a song.

Could any other musician pull off such an evening so effectively? I doubt it.

  • Nick Cave is playing eight more UK dates but tickets are only available in Edinburgh and Brighton. See nickcave.com/live
Harry Leather

By Harry Leather
Digital Editor - @hleather_star

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