A reckless experiment in dialogue and music with an audience

Nick Cave at the Massey Theatre, 10/10/19


You could sense the anticipation and curiosity of the audience as they entered the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster’s sold-out Massey Theatre on Thursday evening. The conversations were already starting, with strangers sharing their Nick Cave experiences of watching him in performance and the curiosity of what this evening was about to unfold.

Since the sudden passing of his son Arthur in 2015, he discovered that he felt more deeply connected with the audiences, and thereby wanted to explore that connectivity further. Forging an even deeper connection with his fans, he has chosen to take “theredhandfiles.com” (a website where Cave answers questions in long-form from fans, without toxicity and retribution) further. Wanting to engage in “reckless experiments promoting an honest dialogue with his audience” on the “Conversations with Nick Cave” tour.  

The stage was set with Nick Cave, either sitting at a single grand piano or grabbing the mic and talking in an unmoderated/un-scripted question and answer dialogue between both audience and artist. 

 Starting off the evening he performed the beautiful “The Ship Song”. Unfortunately, the first question was about dealing with grief, (a topic that was discussed several times during the evening).

“When people are at a loss for words as to what to say, provide compassion and not so much empathy to help them along. Just be there for them.”

Some questions got lost in absurdity and incoherence, and  Nick would say, “Okay, I am lost here,” and try and help isolate what the actual question was. There were discussions about miscarriages, music streaming, songwriting with Warren (they would love to work with David Lynch at some point), and Leonard Cohen stamps were given to him. Surprisingly, there were no really out-there questions, but some were lost in the delivery, and Nick aptly said so. 

Preluding his performance of “Into my arms,” Cave described how the song was written during his second bout of rehab. He was allowed out for Church on Sundays, where he found an old rickety piano that he ultimately used to write the song.

Addiction was also a topic on several questions. One fan, who worked in harm reduction, spoke of the toll it takes on those trying to help. She mentioned Johann Hari’s book “Chasing the Scream” and the support for the decriminalization of illicit drugs. Cave discussed having read the book and how Portugal’s legalization of drugs (and heroin addiction) is a way of the future, having seen what was happening in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside earlier that day.

There were humorous times indeed, like when he forgot he was in another country and started talking about how Americans are so open, until someone said he was in Canada. 

One fan mentioned the type of religious experience you get at a Nick Cave concert. Stating Nick is getting larger and larger venues, and he should be as big as U2, to which Nick asked, “Why are you not working for me?” The fan then stated he remembered the time Nick kicked his head at a show, to which Nick said, “You want me to do it again?” The man walked over to Nick and he obliged with a slow gesture of boot to head, but obviously without contact.

As the evening was winding down, Nick asked if there was a curfew to the stage manager as he was now over the 3-hour set time. The performance of the second to last song “Stagger Lee” shined with such unabridged intensity. The audience listened to his high pitched vocal shrills near the end of the song, knowing they were experiencing something special and befitting what a Nick Cave performance is about. 

Inter-mixed with dialogue was an 11 song set, which included “Weeping Song,” “Avalanche” (Leonard Cohen Cover and the song that started it all), “Shivers (Boys Next Door),” and concluded with “Breathless.”

In this day of celebrity and social media, when a performer will take the time to engage further with their audience rather than just respond with a tweet or a like or a share; it’s refreshing. It’s real. Ladies and Gents…It’s Nick Cave and his Conversations Tour.