Nick Cave, “Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace”

Nick Cave
Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace
BAD SEEDS LTD.
8/10

If this pandemic had a soundtrack that portrayed its sudden isolation—the solitude of a lockdown that forced one to consider the self in good times and bad, the reckoning that only art could pierce the veil of a sadness which fear of the unknown brings—it was Nick Cave’s solo performance, Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace. Bathed in amber, dressed in black with long fingers adorned by silver rings, Cave and his sleek Fazioli Concert Grand piano were the centerpiece of a stark, globally streamed July 23 event, filmed by cinematographer Robbie Ryan in one take with two cameras. On a rainy late night in July (at least on the East Coast), this free and tearful performance offered warmth, elegance, and smart solace.

A solo livestream concert during COVID-19? By this point, audiences have likely witnessed countless StageIt showcases, most of which feature the earnestly alone as their calling cards. Stripped bare, however, to the skin of Cave’s subtly quivering vocals and the bones of his softly struck keys, this is the melancholic quietude and mournful introspection hinted at on recent ghostly albums with the Bad Seeds such as 2013’s Push the Sky Away, 2016’s Skeleton Tree, and 2019’s Ghosteen.

With that, the work of latter day Cave such as the pastoral “Into My Arms” and the menacing “Spinning Song” hew close to their, respectively, vulnerable and trembling initial studio vibe. But here at the U.K.’s Alexandra Palace—and as an album, as opposed to a film—Cave’s pensively contemplative mien is most dramatically (and effortlessly, at that) rendered on tracks we know to usually live in more torrid and frantic surroundings. Take for example “The Mercy Seat.” Often acted out with a noisy gospel fervor surrounding the lyrics (“A hooked bone rising from my food / All things either good or ungood / And the mercy seat is waiting / And I think my head is burning”) with an idea of escape at its heart, here there’s a somnolent resignation at hand in Cave’s raspy quaver. 

The aggressive country-blues ire usually married to all versions of “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry,” is here pared down to a slow, sorrowful promise, something more of a pained hum than a raging hiccup. A new plaintive ballad, “Euthanasia,” finds its singer soulfully shushing his way through the dying of time and the stolen glances of a lover’s smile. If you were ever hoping to examine the singing Cave up-close, Alexandra Palace offers ample room and space for dissection. Far from a “hits” package made skeletal, Idiot Prayer is a soft-skinned, tenderly rendered primer on Cave as a poet and pianist in still life.

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