It might be a stretch to say that Nick Cave’s refusal to do press in annoyance at the way he’s portrayed explains events like Wednesday’s “Conversations With Nick Cave: An Evening of Talk and Music,” where he stood alone on the Sanders Theatre stage and combined a freewheeling Q&A with sporadic songs at a piano. (In fact, suggesting it would feed into the exact problem he’s highlighting.) But the two impulses seemed to stem from the same drive to connect with his audience without a mediating filter in between, and his fans reciprocated, revealing as much about their relationship to his biblically-infused songs of loneliness, debauchery, and (in tiny amounts) grace as the singer revealed about himself.
As befitted an audience populated by musicians, songwriters, composers, and painters, there were plenty of questions about his creative process. He explained how he stopped hiding behind characters and started writing about what’s in front of him — his wife — two decades ago. And he rejected the popular conception of writer’s block as implying something that’s stuck, describing writing as “being filled with something, not giving something out.” On his audience’s unpredictable relationship with his work, Cave said, “Once I release these songs out into the world, they no longer belong to me,” later adding, “It allows the imagination of the listener into my songs, and my songs become more porous.”
At other times, audience members shared some of their most personal moments — cancer diagnoses, parents who’d lost young children — and Cave offered vulnerability back, offering support while admitting that he didn’t have answers. Asked if he believed in a higher power, he said that he lives his life as if God exists, “something beyond us that I can reach toward that keeps that feeling of yearning and longing in my work.” Plus, he wryly admitted, “It’s just very good for songwriting.”
Cave found plenty of similar opportunities for levity amidst (and without abandoning) the earnestness. “You Jewish people don’t get Christmas,” he told a radio host. “It’s tough, because Christmas is awesome.” (The host’s response: “It’s only one day.”) And when a woman in the front row produced the vinyl for 1984’s “From Her to Eternity” with Cave’s much younger self on the cover, the 62-year-old held it up to his face and said, “Before . . . after.”
Most of the 15 songs scattered throughout the three hours relied on soft, resonant piano chords and Cave’s thin, watery baritone. Some, like “(Are You) the One That I’ve Been Waiting For?” and “Love Letter,” were aching love songs that grasped for comfort while “Shivers” was soothing so long as you ignored the lyrics. Other songs were relentless, like “Palaces of Montezuma” and a “Stagger Lee” where he caressed the words before loosing three operatic howls. And with that, Cave waved goodnight and stuck around to sign autographs.
Conversations With Nick Cave: An Evening Of Talk And Music
At Sanders Theatre, Cambridge, Sept. 25