Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone, Alexandra Palace, review: Sadness and loneliness are thrown into sharp focus

Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace is a gift. Not, as so many online gigs are, some poor substitute for the real thing, but instead it serves as a remedy for a world that is still so insular, with a long time to wait until any concerts can resume. The film’s theme, as the title of the gig suggests, is being alone. Cave reads a fairytale as he walks through the black and gold of the empty Alexandra Palace.

Surrounded by a pool of sheet music, his grand piano stands in the middle of the space, warmly lit. In contrast, the songs themselves are inflected with a funereal mournfulness that feels in step with the world right now. This live stream comes about two months after he was due to play two concerts at the O2, and there is more than a sense that this is, in some way, an elegy for the live music industry.

This is Cave stripped down to the deliciousness of his rich voice, and the clarity of his piano. However, the songs which could be made for this space, “Into My Arms” in particular, feel trite.

‘Cave is known for his showmanship, and although he is necessarily curtailed by circumstance, the dramatic minimalism of this setting is perfect’ (Photo: Joel Ryan)

The pieces that stand out are those that are usually showpieces for his band, The Bad Seeds, or his side project, Grinderman. “Palaces of Montezuma” is particularly beautiful without the rousing instrumental accompaniment, and this foregrounds the genius of his lyrics. The inflection of sadness and loneliness that tinges all of his work is thrown into sharp focus here, sung by one man alone.

Cave is known for his showmanship, and although he is necessarily curtailed by circumstance, the dramatic minimalism of this setting is perfect for an expressive face, and such powerfully emotional songs. He played “Girl in Amber” early on, it features on Skeleton Tree, his album recorded after the death of his son and his voice takes on a sorrowful howl.

“The Mercy Seat” is a pure shout of anger and bitterness, a contrast to the triumphalism of “Jubilee Street”. A great touch was “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry”, towards the end of the set, harking back to 1992 and a Cormac McCarthy-like macabre. The songs almost all run into one another, given very little breathing space, but their unique strengths save the concert from feeling homogenous.

There is a messianic quality to Cave and to his music, undercut by the conclusion to the piece. There is no applause, no standing ovation, no encores. Instead, a bandy-legged man makes his way into the light of a door at the edge of the stage, and silence falls.



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