Published Oct 11, 2019Yesterday evening, Nick Cave's "Conversations" tour arrived in the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster, where a sold-out Massey Theatre greeted the famed artist with a mix of questions and observations, ranging from absurd to sincere, intimate to off-putting. Over the course of three hours, Cave opened the floor to his audience as an extension of his "Red Hand Files" online question-and-answer project, interspersing the discussions with solo performances of a range of tracks from his discography and beyond.
The "Conversations" event was an exercise in vulnerability, juxtaposed by the confidence of Cave as a performer, although he admitted further into the evening that the unknown within these question-and-answer scenarios terrifies him. Audience members told Cave of their experiences of grief; one individual asked how to support her friend whose partner, a close friend of hers, had recently died. Cave responded explaining the need to exercise compassion instead of empathy, so as not to bring about further suffering.
A theme he circled back to throughout the night was that of the choices with which we are faced: one can straddle the absence of a person or of a lack of hope, yet there is also the option to begin to collect the fragments of light and joy one experiences in order to grow them further.
Humour was in abundance too, as Cave spoke of how his facial hair during the Grinderman era did not survive the "moustache war" (his wife demanded he shave it off when Cave was jet-lagged and weak-willed) and ominously told the story of how his childhood was carefree before the discovery of Leonard Cohen's Songs of Love and Hate, offering his rendition of "Avalanche" after an audience member gifted him Cohen emblazoned postage stamps.
It was engaging to witness the trajectory of the dialogue, particularly when a fan brought up Morrissey and told of how public figures he looked up to had "disappointed" him, prompting a response from Cave stating his opinion that the beauty of one's art takes precedence over their morality as a person (although he understood why individuals would be opposed to attending Morrissey concerts). Along with traditional views of both marriage and motherhood, Cave shared some contentious points, but this was exactly the forum to have such conversations.
In some cases, the energy could be dulled when individuals had trouble communicating their thoughts or gave long-winded replies, Cave included. However, the insights from both audience and artist were valuable. A fan whose work is with individuals coping with addiction spoke with Cave about Johann Hari's concept of connection as the opposite of addiction, prompting Cave to respond with well-researched support for decriminalization of illicit drugs, discussing Portugal's drug policy and linking it to the injustice he had witnessed on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside earlier in the day.
Cave interweaved performances with question-and-answer periods, utilizing fans' questions as prompts. He covered former bandmate Rowland S. Howard's "Shivers," originally recorded by the Birthday Party, upon an individual's request who asked about Howard's difficult relationship with the song, and performed "Into My Arms" after musing about its ever changing meaning. On the subject of the Bad Seeds' recent surprise album, Ghosteen, Cave shared that its fantastical imagery was a result of its writing occurring when he was "half mad with grief," adding a darker undertone to a record that captures a sense of freedom and lightness.
Only the ending of the night felt rushed, which was to be expected, given the open forum Cave had orchestrated. Fans were able to get to know the side of himself that Cave has shared publicly in recent years, extending the dialogue from the communion of Bad Seeds shows through to the anonymity of the "Red Hand Files" to a more direct and personal opportunity for connection. The "Conversations" event raised important questions about the power imbalance between an artist and their fans, while simultaneously providing a meditation on the universality of human experience.