Live Review: Nick Cave @ Plenary Theatre, Melbourne

27 April 2024 | 9:27 am | Monique La Terra

Seated behind the piano for much of the set, Cave’s typical manic theatrics had all but vanished, leaving ample room to build ambience and vulnerability.

Nick Cave

Nick Cave (Supplied)

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In a world of mimics, Nick Cave is a true original. 

No one can do what he does.

And it’s befitting that on a bleak evening in Melbourne, Cave should be the one to entertain the masses. 

From an unhinged post-punk prodigy to a moody, debonair virtuoso, Cave’s creative evolution is unparalleled. For more than 40 years, his multifarious ventures have encompassed the worlds of music, literature, and visual art.

Hailing from rural Victoria, any visit from Cave to the state acts as a homecoming of sorts, but this time was different. Performing the second of three nights at the Plenary, the notoriously dramatic Cave presented an alternative rendition of his work. Best known for fronting the Bad Seeds, The Birthday Party, and Grinderman, tonight Cave was solo, accompanied only by Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood on bass guitar. 

Smartly dressed with his distinctive slick of black hair, the Prince of Darkness entered stage right, opening with the mystically dissonant Girl In Amber from 2016’s Skeleton Tree. Immediately, it was evident that what the Plenary lacked in ambience would be resolved by Cave’s talent for generating atmosphere.

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“We played here last night. This is a much better crowd,” he declared before clarifying a few things. “This is not the Bad Seeds. This is a different thing entirely.” He went on to reveal that the Bad Seeds plan to return next year in celebration of their upcoming 18th studio album Wild God

Given the show’s stripped-back format, many songs dependent on the Bad Seeds' amplitude were understandably absent. Instead, Cave pulled the most solemn songs from his extensive catalogue and presented them with simplicity and restraint. 

Seated behind the piano for much of the set, Cave’s typical manic theatrics had all but vanished, leaving ample room to build ambience and vulnerability. Unimpeded by lavish flourishes, Cave’s manipulation of the piano was agonisingly poignant. At times, he caressed the keys with a devastating delicacy while relentlessly slamming them at other times. Discarded sheet music adorned the floor around him.

Devoted to sincerity, Cave liberally shifted between dramatic crescendos and lingering diminuendos, leaving audience members spellbound in the swell of his soundscapes.  

From the existential Higgs Boson Blues to the enigmatic Jesus Of The Moon and the haunting Push The Sky Away, many of the songs on the setlist dealt with ambiguities, and it’s this lyrical command of the English language that continues to captivate audiences. 

Off of the Bad Seed’s most recent record, 2019’s meditative Ghosteen, Cave performed Galleon Ship, a song about the hopefulness of a transcendent journey towards fulfilment, and the beautiful Waiting For You, sung with such yearning Cave’s voice began to strain.

An unexpected addition was the B-side Euthanasia, a song disliked by the Bad Seeds but loved by Cave and described as “unfairly pushed into a dark corner.” 

The night’s most ferocious moment came during Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry, a vicious ode about fatherhood written as a lullaby. In contrast, the most moving moment of the night came in the closing moments of I Need You as Cave longingly repeated ‘just breathe’ long after the lights darkened.  

The unadorned nature of the show seemed to induce a pin-drop quiet crowd—that was until Balcony Man when Cave insisted on audience participation from those sitting on, you guessed it, the balcony. 

Cave’s signature song, The Mercy Seat, was as unremorseful as ever and even more disturbingly ominous as Cave sat alone at the piano without the usual escalation of the band. The Weeping Song also found deeper emotional resonance in its simplified version, as did O Children, which took on a liturgical quality. The liturgy continued later in the set during Into My Arms, a moving ballad reminiscent of a church hymn. 

The encore began with the deepest of deep cuts. Dedicated to the late Rowland S. Howard, Shivers by The Boys Next Door, an early iteration of The Birthday Party, was a humble nod to Cave’s musical heritage. The encore also included a request for the often-overlooked Sad Waters. The nautical theme continued with The Ship Song, an enchanting ballad that cuts through the gloom. The show ended with a tribute to the beloved Melbourne band The Seekers with The Carnival is Over, a song Cave treasures from his childhood. 

The brilliance of an unembellished show is that it forces the performer to revisit each song in its most essential state and allows the audience to meditate within the minimalism of it all. The experience is cathartic for all involved, and there’s no doubt that anyone who witnesses Cave at his most vulnerable will walk out with a newfound admiration for the depth of his creative soul.

Nick Cave @ Plenary Theatre, MCEC, Melbourne (Naarm) – Friday, 26 April 2024

Girl In Amber

Higgs Boson Blues

Galleon Ship


O Children

Jesus Of The Moon

Waiting For You

Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry

Balcony Man


The Mercy Seat

Black Hair

There Is A Kingdom

The Weeping Song

Into My Arms

Jubilee Street

Push The Sky Away

Shivers (The Boys Next Door song)

Sad Waters

Give Us A Kiss

The Ship Song

The Carnival Is Over (The Seekers cover)