What a tour and time Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have enjoyed this calendar year. Following their Carnage release, there was no real sign of a tour at the time. Everyone hunkering down in their homes under strict lockdown rules was of no help to live musicians, and the nearly year-long delay for some tours to get going was a fascinating time to observe. No greater a period than for Cave and Ellis, whose works elsewhere are often mired by changing tides, sudden spanners in the works and emotional dramatics which would sucker punch most into complete submission away from the sweat and lights of the stage. Not Cave, though. He takes to the stage with Australian Carnage and his long-time collaborator, violinist and novelist extraordinaire, Ellis.
It should be no surprise their collaboration on stage transfers so well to a live album. Expect much from the final show of the Australian tour. Cave and Ellis head to their home country and give it their all, as they should. Spinning Song is not the greatest opener, but is a standard as Cave implores his audience to “rip up the seats”. There is little time to do so in the immediate follower, Bright Horses, which enlists some exceptional intonations from Ellis. Cave, of course, leads the lyrics, but backing interjections from his longstanding collaborator do well to showcase their towering, exceptional back-and-forth. It takes a little getting into, a real surprise given the quality of Night Raid, but by Carnage, the hooks are in and it is hard to shake them off. Why would you?
This is not the time for reviving the backlog of songs Cave and Ellis are part of. Their modern material, the newest offerings from their 2020 release, are exceptional. Ghosteen is given a proper appearance, waylaid on its original tour and cropping up from time to time here. Brooding White Elephant gives Cave some smoky interpretations underneath a rising, roaring symphony. It all comes together with gorgeous and bold ferocity. Delicate flourishes on Waiting for You are of a transportive quality, as is the follow-up I Need You. Ordinary dedications to time in the supermarket and observations of character and colour make up the best of Cave and the indicators his tracks hold, but more powerful than this is the silence which comes from the attending audience.
Rare it is to hold the perfect live audience for a record, Australian Carnage boasts a chilling intimacy to it, and part of this comes from an in-form audience. Responsive in the right ways, and never breaking out to be the star of a show they are in attendance of. Recorded at the back end of last year, these late December howls and cries hit as strongly as Cave and Ellis often do. T. Rex covers, recent material and a dedication to the titular carnage at play, the piano-led charms of these Cave and Ellis collaborations are clear to hear and easier still to enjoy. Look no further than Hand of God for the reason Cave and Ellis are still at the very peak of live performance. It is hard to hear or find anything much better than this, and listeners are lucky they have access to it.