Nick Cave – One More Time With Feeling
Kino Cinema, Melbourne
Thursday 8 September 2016
THE WEEPING SONG
The title of the film One More Time With Feeling comes from the song Magneto, but it is also an utterance made by Nick Cave during the film as he prepares to re-shoot a scene at the request of the film crew. The request to re-shoot was due to lighting or framing, or some such technical detail. It had nothing to do with Nick’s performance, which after all, was basically him looking at himself in the mirror, putting on his jacket and leaving the room. ‘One more time with feeling’ muttered Nick as he prepared to repeat these mundane actions.
The joke, I suppose, is one of understatement. While the action he is repeating – putting on his jacket and walking through a door – is almost entirely devoid of ‘feeling’, the rest of the film is packed full of it, delving as it does into the raw emotions of deep rooted grief, death and loss. None of which requires any acting.
The impetus behind making One More Time With Feeling, according to the film’s director, Andrew Dominik, was so that Nick Cave didn’t have to talk to the press to promote his new album, Skeleton Tree.
The film was a one night only cinema event to be screened on the eve of the album’s release. I was at the Kino Cinema on Collins Street with friends John, Ralph and Nina. The cinema was virtually full – just a few scattered empty seats.
The film documents the making of the new album amid the grief suffered by Nick and his family after the tragic death of their son Arthur, who fell from a cliff near Brighton in England. It includes performances of all eight songs from the album as well footage from the recording studio, interviews with Nick and his family, and Bad Seeds band mate, Warren Ellis.
Not wishing to talk to the media about his son’s death seemed a reasonable desire, but then, given the circumstances, so would not wishing to make another album. He was half way through recording it when his son died, but not only did he and the band eventually complete the album, they invited in a film crew to document the process. This may seem counter-intuitive, even inexplicable, and at one moment during the film both Nick and the director concede that they don’t know why he is doing it.
Whatever purpose it served Nick, it was worth doing from the audience’s perspective, if only because it shed a little light on how grief and the creative process can coalesce. Trauma is something else altogether, according to Cave, it leaves no room for the imagination to function.
Having spoken about time being elastic early in the film, he later clarified what he meant, saying that after a traumatic event, time continues, you get on with your life and do other things, but no matter how far away from the trauma event you go, you always snap back to it.
“Look Up Here, I’m In Heaven”
It is a difficult film to watch at times, particularly when his wife Susie is holding a painting done by Arthur as a boy, a painting of the very cliff from which he fell. She seems bereft as she asks herself, Nick, the camera crew or just fate why they had it framed in black.
This is part of a thread in which omens, or more particularly, the prophetic nature of Nick’s songs is discussed. After all, Nick Cave is the godfather of gloom so there is no shortage of lines you might quote to underline any painful premonition you want to illustrate.
Perhaps none more so than the opening line of Jesus Alone, the first song on the album, in which Nick sings ‘You fell from the sky, crash landed in a field.’ For prophetic shock value, this sits alongside the opening line of Lazarus by David Bowie, released just days before his death, in which he sings ‘Look up here, I’m in heaven.’
Like Bowie, who knew he was dying, Cave would have known how the line would be received, even though the song was written before the accident. Of course he might simply have changed the line or cut the song, but one thing about Cave is that he doesn’t censor himself.
Arthur’s death isn’t explicitly referred to until quite late in the film. There is a lot of talking around the issue and it is assumed the audience knows what happened. This might be because the film was only ever intended as a vehicle to accompany the launch of the album, not as a commodity for watching in the future. It is not a documentary in the usual sense then, more collage than chronicle, it is more than just a journalistic recounting of facts.
As with even his darkest songs, the film is not without its flashes of humour. Nick seated at the recording console with his son Earl, Arthur’s twin, explaining that he is often given control of a special DFA fader – DFA as in ‘does fuck all.’
Or when his wife turns up to the studio wearing a fur coat and he says, “Get it off or I’ll have the animal rights people all over me.” It’s not the only fashion advice Cave offers his wife, at one stage advising her to wear the high heels for a scene, which is perhaps unusual given that she is a model and fashion designer.
This is a haunting film, not so much harrowing but certainly sad. Yet it is also illuminating in that it serves as a vehicle for Cave’s grief. It contains heartrending songs of loss, but there is no real attempt to make sense of things and it makes you wonder how you would cope in the same circumstance. If the film is a bit long, perhaps that is because this sort of grief has no end point.
At the film’s conclusion Cave asserts that he and Susie have decided to be happy, as an act of revenge. Perhaps it is the only panacea against a lifetime of umbrage and bitterness. And in a way, this attitude is reflected in the final line of the album where, at the end of the title track, Skeleton Tree, Cave repeats, ‘And it’s alright now.’
Of course it’s not, but if you can read disaster into the opening line of the album, then perhaps it is some consolation that you can read peace and equanimity into the closing line.
Nick Cave’s famous work ethic suggests that he will continue to write and record. It may be some years, however, before he performs again. Along with Ed Kuepper, he is probably the artist I have seen most often. The last time I saw Cave perform was in December 2014 at The Plenary – possibly the worst venue I’ve visited, which is saying something when you consider some of the rock dives in which I’ve stepped foot. Below is my recollection of that gig written at the time.
The Plenary – Melbourne Exhibition Centre, Docklands
16 December 2014
A VISIT FROM SAINT NICK
It simply isn’t Christmas without a visit from Saint Nick…that’s Cave of course. Not every year, but most years Nick rides in on his sleigh to play a series of yuletide shows in Australia. His most recent show in Melbourne was a spellbinding performance in January 2013 at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl as part of the Push the Sky Away tour.
The first half of the show was a mesmerising run through of that album with the Bad Seeds’ (Warren Ellis, Ed Kuepper, Barry Adamson, Martyn Casey, Conway Savage, Thomas Wylder, Jim Sclavunos, possibly others) sound augmented by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the choir from the Gardenvale primary school where his sister teaches, or her kids attend, or his cousin is the caretaker – there was some family connection anyway. Sure other cities also had an orchestra and a children’s choir, but in Melbourne we got his sister’s primary school.
That’s the thing about Nick and Melbourne; we think we are in some way special in his eyes. After all, everyone has a Nick connection, they know his brother, they’re related to the kid who delivers his mum’s newspaper, or perhaps they just saw him in Myer once (I did!). Perhaps we are special to him, but also, possibly it is no wonder he left – all those stalkers! Really, if Melbourne means anything to Nick (and frankly he doesn’t strike me as the sentimental type), it might be as the place he returns to, or equally it might just be the place he left.
This time he’s playing a ‘solo’ show at The Plenary in the Melbourne Exhibition Centre – a yawning, hangar like convention centre tricked out in sickly lime green chairs, like an unmown lawn or the inside of a frog’s mouth.
I once saw Regina Spektor perform there. My wife and I had seats near the front, to the right hand side of the stage. The problem was that Regina’s piano was positioned quite a bit to the left hand side facing the other way, meaning that she performed with her back to at least two-thirds of the audience. My complaint letter to Frontier Touring was met with the sort of dismissive, arrogant brush off you’d expect from industry tyros.
So I booked a ticket to this Nick Cave show with no expectations, other than that if anyone could tame this bizarre venue, then Nick could.
I’ve seen Nick Cave perform as often, if not more, as I have any other artist. Back in the 1980s when I had nothing much else to do and ticket prices weren’t quite so prohibitive, I’d see The Birthday Party, and later the Bad Seeds every night they played in Melbourne. That is, if they played three nights at the Ballroom or The Venue, I went all three nights.
I’ve seen him perform in more than 20 venues across the city, many of them on multiple occasions, a number of them now defunct or demolished. These include: Hearts in Carlton, Festival Hall in West Melbourne, Seaview Ballroom in St Kilda, both the upstairs and downstairs rooms, The Astor Theatre in Windsor, Melbourne University in Carlton, The Chevron Hotel on St Kilda Road, RMIT Storey Hall in Swanston Street, The Venue in St Kilda, the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds in Ascot Vale, both in one of the pavilions as well as the main arena at The Big Day Out, The Forum in Flinders Street, The Regent Theatre in Collins Street, Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne Town Hall, The Palace in St Kilda, The Metro/Palace in Bourke Street, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, the State Theatre foyer and now the Plenary. Plus in 1996 I saw him at the Brixton Academy in London.
I’ve seen him perform in his various guises with The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party, Nick Cave’s Man or Myth, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Grinderman and solo. Was there also a gig as The Cavemen?
To some this inventory probably just shows that I’m a sad, obsessive train-spotter. And that is at least partly true. But it should also illustrate that Nick is one of my hometown heroes, and not just because he’s lived a dissolute life of drug-addled debauchery and enjoyed torrid affairs with Kylie and PJ Harvey. Commendable as those qualities are – and the Kylie thing may or may not be true, but if I were him, I’d make no effort to deny it – he is also an artist who has continued to evolve and grow and just as importantly, keep his hair. Mainly, he has always done his own thing without giving a flying fuck what anyone else thinks. In other words, he’s everything I’m not.
“Can You Feel My Heartbeat?”
This gig at the Plenary was billed as a solo show, but Nick was joined on stage by four of the Bad Seeds – Warren Ellis, Barry Adamson, Martyn Casey and Thomas Wylder. They proceeded to play an entire set of Bad Seeds songs, so I don’t know why it wasn’t billed as such, unless of course in the Bad Seeds corporation agreement four doesn’t represent a quorum.
In any case no sooner had Martyn Casey thrummed the opening rumble to begin We Real Cool, with Warren Ellis joining in on flute, than the crowd flooded the area in front of the stage. A solo turn by Cave at the piano for The Weeping Song was followed by the menacing Red Right Hand and one of my very favourite Cave songs, the beautiful, but rarely performed Sad Waters.
I had remained in my seat near the back on the lower level, so I was a fair way from the stage, but I think he may even have signed a girl’s breast during this song. It was his turn during Higgs Boson Blues when he sang, “Can you feel my heartbeat?” and invited audience members to do just that. I learned later that my friend Ralph was one of the ecstatic people down the front stretching out their arm to touch the benighted breast. The song’s reference to bringing his ‘smallpox and flu’ was updated to the more current ebola. Perhaps the people down the front would have been less excited to make contact had they known.
The Ship Song, performed solo at the piano, had extra pertinence given that the Polly Woodside is in permanent dry dock just out the front of the venue. This constituted one of several treasured touchstones for a Cave gig, including Red Right Hand, From Her To Eternity, The Mercy Seat and Into My Arms, but there were also a few deep cut surprises, in addition to Sad Waters we heard God is in the House, Lay Me Low, and Black Hair featuring Warren Ellis on piano accordian.
Nick was in constant dialogue with the people down the front, being called upon to comment on tattoos, locate a missing boyfriend and possibly heal the sick. At one point he asked for requests, but it is unclear if he played any of the myriad songs yelled out by those who shouted titles at him.
As Cave lent over the front rows to sing Water’s Edge, one of the uneasy haunting songs from Push the Sky Away, the lighting cast his magnified silhouette on the auditorium wall where it loomed in gigantic shadow, like an apparition or a genie escaped from its bottle, adding menace to the song’s warning that ‘the chill of love is coming on.’
The set concluded with Jubilee Street, not necessarily the stand out song from the Push the Sky Away record, but to hear it live is a powerful and exhilarating experience. At last year’s Music Bowl gig it was the highlight of the show, and it was every bit as good at this show.
The encore began with Nick thanking the audience for helping to normalise ‘this very strange venue,’ adding that he thought he was going to be doing a motivational seminar. They then launched into an extended run of encore tracks, including the slow groove of We No Who U R, the surprise of Up Jumped the Devil, the playful Breathless and the brimstone of Jack the Ripper and The Lyre of Orpheus.
As the band took their leave, Nick even lingered on stage to sign autographs and pose for photos.
A few nights later he appeared at the Astor Theatre for a Q&A about his film 20,000 Days On Earth, where he perched on a ridiculous turret to respond to the absurd enquiries of his devoted fanbase. On both occasions he seemed happy to be among his people.
We Real Cool
The Weeping Song
Red Right Hand
Higgs Boson Blues
The Ship Song
From Her To Eternity
God Is In The House
Lay Me Low
Into My Arms
The Mercy Seat
– – – – – –
We No Who U R
Up Jumped The Devil
Jack The Ripper
Babe, You Turn Me On
The Lyre Of Orpheus