While musicians continue to explore the possibilities of performing live without a present audience, someone of Nick Cave’s gravitas was never going to appear in virtual reality, on Instagram Live or in the computer game Fortnite.
Instead, as Laura Marling did last month, the Bad Seeds frontman has been filmed beautifully in an empty venue, for a solo piano concert that will be available to stream at 8pm this evening.
Of course he can’t completely replicate the live experience. The performance was filmed in June, and watching on a screen creates an instant barrier between musician and distant, housebound audience. But as a ticketed show that begins at a set time and can’t be paused, rewound or watched later on YouTube, at least there’s that had-to-be-there feeling.
Cave, 62, has used film effectively before, playing games with the documentary format in 20,000 Days on Earth in 2014, and using his 2016 film, One More Time With Feeling, as a powerful way to explore his mental state in the immediate aftermath of the accidental death of his teenage son Arthur. Idiot Prayer, artfully lit in Alexandra Palace’s 2,500-capacity West Hall, sits well beside those productions and feels like a project he might have undertaken pandemic or not.
Away from the volume and theatricality of his full-band shows (which should have happened at the O2 Arena in May and will now take place next April) this is an opportunity to observe that vampire face in intimate profile and really to hear his lyrics. He is masterful at expressing everything from bottomless love to Old Testament madness across a 90-minute set that travels from 1988’s The Mercy Seat to several songs from his latest album, Ghosteen. The empty space around him intensifies the focus. It’s almost, but not quite, like you’re in the room with him.