Gig review: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis at St George’s Hall, Bradford

Of all of Nick Cave’s musical partnerships over the past 45 years, the one with fellow Australian Warren Ellis has proved the most durable and productive.

Nick Cave with Warren Ellis. Picture: Joel Ryan

Alongside ten studio albums with The Bad Seeds and as a duo in the last 27 years, they have also composed numerous film soundtracks and theatre scores.

Watching the pair onstage together in the impressively reupholstered setting of Bradford’s 150-year-old concert hall, it’s easy to understand what makes their relationship work. While Cave relishes the spotlight, all gangly limbs and brooding demeanour, Ellis busies himself with his keyboards and numerous effects pedals, occasionally joining in with backing vocalists T Jae Rae, Wendi Rose and Janet Rasmus or, during a winning cover T.Rex’s Cosmic Dancer and the rousing God Is in the House, some flamboyant violin playing.

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A fan’s cry of “We love you, Warren” is treated with good humour while Ellis’s moment of forgetfulness over what song they are due to play next in the encore prompts some joshing from Cave. When they finally alight on the “mid-period Nick Cave” murder ballad Henry Lee, Cave urges Ellis to count them in, quipping: “Warren Ellis is famous for the most erotically charged countings in rock ’n’ roll.”

The electrifying rendition that follows is one of the highlights of the night.

Most of the two-hour set, however, is given over to the pair’s recent album, Carnage, and its widely acclaimed predecessor, Ghosteen. Spinning Song is all pretty drones and otherwordly harmonies, during Bright Horses Cave switches to a grand piano; its closing refrain of “But my baby’s coming home now/On the 5.30 train” is bittersweet.

Carnage is dedicated to David Hockney, with Cave clearly keen to get his Bradford audience onside, but then he unwittingly stokes local rivalry by mentioning he wrote the next song, White Elephant, for the Leeds artist Thomas Helsinger. If the band’s timing in the latter is a little ramshackle, the song is carried by the forcefulness of the gospel singing.

An imploring I Need You is another of the evening’s standouts, so too the bleak melancholy of God is in the House. In Hand of God, Cave, Ellis and backing singers form a circle to bellow the chorus together; Shattered Ground is similarly powerful, bidding its long “goodbyes”.

The sick child tale of Hollywood is a dark as on record, but Cave shows his tender side in the second encore with a brilliantly stark reading of Into My Arms before exiting with the spectral Ghosteen Speaks.

Saying his thank yous to the nearly full house, Cave seems genuinely touched that such numbers have turned out to watch them perform. “It’s quite something for everyone to learn how to be an audience again, just as we are learning how to be a band again,” he says.

There might still be some way to go with taming the pandemic before gigs are finally back to normal, but the standing ovation for Cave, Ellis and the band at the end demonstrates how much intimate gatherings such as this have been missed.