Sunday 19 August 2018

Nick Cave ‘So, What Do You Want to Know?', Abbey Theatre review: 'immensely moving, revealing, and frequently hilarious conversation'

Nick Cave's songs possess poignant, even painful, inner clues about the human condition
Nick Cave's songs possess poignant, even painful, inner clues about the human condition
Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

Nick Cave wants to talk. On the eve of a Dublin appearance with The Bad Seeds alongside Patti Smith, he takes to the stage at our national theatre for an intensely intimate Q&A and solo piano performance. It becomes a fascinating no holds barred conversation about his creative process, the tragic loss of his son, the transformative power and catharsis of playing live, the contentious issue of playing in Israel, and so much more.

Surprisingly, there is no moderator or chairperson for the evening. Fans are free to ask Nick quite literally whatever the hell they like. Before he opens the floor for questions, Cave performs Sad Waters alone at the piano, the opening track from arguably his finest album, No Funeral, My Trial.

The first question from the audience goes very, very deep. A mother of a special needs son asks Nick about being a sixth member of her family, and a constant amongst chaos. Cave fields such questions very candidly and soon talks about the tragic loss of his son, Arthur, at the tender age of 15. “This might sound terrible but grief changes your life for the better, it really does,” Cave says. It’s hard to imagine any artist alive doing anything like this.

'So, What Do You Want to Know?' is not all about loss and bereavement, and there's several strange twists during an immensely moving, revealing, and frequently hilarious conversation about love and music. Cave talks warmly about his friend Shane MacGowan and claims he urged Cave many years ago to become a crooner rather than belting out his songs. Another question comes from someone who claims their child was conceived to a Cave song called Love Letter. “After how many minutes?” Cave chuckles. “Let’s just say it was on repeat,” the questioner responds.

When asked about his faith, Cave replies that it is integral to his creative process and part of his being, while also mentioning the Magdalene Laundry women. He says he adores the work of Samuel Beckett, and lovingly talks about his wife Susie Bicks, who he met at a fashion show in London. Cave is clearly besotted with her after all these years.

One of the most surreal moments of the evening comes as someone tells Cave they first heard his music on Dave Fanning’s radio show, and that their favourite song is The Ship Song. Fanning happens to be in the audience, and Cave spontaneously performs The Ship Song for the girl in question. She'll probably be pinching herself for the rest of her life.

When asked about playing in Tel Aviv last year, and whether he’d do it again in the light of recent events, Cave gives a long and considered answer, expressing his shock, horror and revulsion at events in the region since the re-location of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the slaughter of Palestinian protesters at the country's bloodied borders. He says he’d still play in Israel, and mentions benefit shows he has done for Palestinian charities.

For more than two and half hours, Cave engages in a fascinating and freewheeling conversation. While there are shades of his 1999 talk in the Gaiety theatre, The Secret History of the Love Song, this is an entirely different animal. Cave gently brushes aside a query about what happens when he plays his last concert, or releases his final album. At 60, Cave is making some of the finest music of his career, and reaching out to audiences in ways that have never been done before.

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds play the Royal Hospital Kilmainham with Patti Smith tonight (sold out).

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