Nick Cave Delivers a Moving Performance in Montreal

Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave played to a sold out crowd at the Sir Wilfred Pelletier theatre this past Thursday, putting an acoustic spin on his diverse repetoire.

Cave’s career has had an interesting arc since his debut with The Birthday Party in the late 1970s. During this experimental period, the frontman made a name for himself by putting on wild and violent performances, prowling around the stage menacingly alongside the band’s dissonant grooves. In the early ‘80s, the artist moved to Europe and founded Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, which has seen him mature into one of the most talented and immersive songwriters of all time - crafting heavy and emotional music with an undoubtedly unique sound. 

“We’re going to try to get to the very essence of what these songs might be about,” Cave said while settling into his seat at a piano centre-stage, as the crowd’s warm applause came to a close. Joined by bassist Colin Greenwood of Radiohead fame, the two opened with “Girl in Amber,” setting a precedent for the night as Cave’s somber yet powerful voice filled the auditorium. Better-known songs like “Jesus of the Moon” and “O Children” also made early appearances in the set, which translated well acousticly - Cave’s rapturous keys blending well with Greenwood’s bass.

The setlist was quite varied, producing moments ranging from slow and emotional, to upbeat and engaging. In “I Need You,” Cave concluded the somber ode to a lost love by agonizingly repeating the line “just breathe, just breathe, just breathe” over and over again in one breath over the course of a full minute, his last uttering of the phrase coming out in a throaty whisper as tension filled the room. Louder moments were also sprinkled throughout the show, notably in “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry,” with the crowd clapping along to Cave’s powerful delivery of the eponymous chorus.

The emotional heaviness of Cave’s music would have been draining to listen to for a whole concert, but his surprisingly comical personality did well to break the tension. During “Balcony Man,” Cave urged everyone in balcony seating to scream as loud as they could whenever the word “balcony” came up in the song. Cave sung the opening line with a smirk: “I’m the motherfucking balcony man!” - spawning an ear shattering rapture from the seats above. After listening to this call-and-response for a few minutes, the repressed floor crowd emitted a few chirps, complaining about having to sit in silence below the party above. “What a polarized society we have,” Cave mocked.

The concert’s more intimate setup also undoubtedly encouraged some song requests from the audience. “Nobody’s Baby” was one name that caught Cave from the crowd. “Okay this is for that man. That deep-voiced man,” Cave said, chuckling along with the audience.

Acoustic shows can be hit or miss, depening on the performer and how well their music translates to a more stripped down sound. Cave’s solo concert was definitely a hit, seamlessly blending songs from his wandering catalogue into a fantastic performance, all while cracking a few jokes in between. The artist’s North American tour closes on Oct. 29 after three back-to-back nights in Los Angeles.