Carnage across Canada with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis

This feature was submitted by Tyler Smith, the man behind the Punks on Pizza Podcast.

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis were playing the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver. I had a front-row seat and was riddled with anxiety. Nick Cave is one of the greatest songwriters and frontmen ever. I’ve seen him play multiple times, and it’s always a phenomenal show.

It sets in on the ferry from the island to Mainland. I haven’t been to a performance of this magnitude in nearly three years, and I haven’t felt like this going to a show since my preteen days of getting knocked around mosh pits.

First, I admit, full Bad Seeds prices for less than half the Bad Seeds had me skeptical. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

It was a beautiful Vancouver day, the air was brisk, but the sun was hot. Outside the back of the theatre were a tour bus, a couple of other vehicles and a small crowd of people with merch in hopes of getting an autograph. An assistant said Cave would likely come out for a few autographs if we were masked. He walked out, signed a few things, stressed he was in a hurry and left quickly.

Over a couple of beers, I thought, fuckin’ eh. I just got Cave’s autograph. Also, he was more tanned than I’d ever seen him, and he was shedding the Vampire image by day.

The time came to file into the theatre, and I got to my seat. A seat at a Nick Cave show. I hoped it wouldn’t remain a seated event. The lights faded to a deep blue, and the band walked out. Cave took the stage last to thunderous applause. The whole theatre rumbled in a frequency capable of breaking through Warren Ellis’ heavy Synth work, which was not an easy feat.

It’s been three years since Cave came to Canada, and you could feel it. Since his son Arthur Cave passed in 2015, there’s been a new closeness between him and die-hard fans that’s unmatchable to any fandom. (Editor’s note: Sadly Nick Cave’s eldest son Jethro Lazenby also passed away this week.) See The Cult of Nick Cave to see what I mean. The Red Hand Files, the online Q&A website between Cave and whoever he decides to respond to, only deepened that.

They opened with “Spinning Song,” a Bad Seeds number that doesn’t feel like it’s missing a goddamn thing. Perfect. The song ends with a standing ovation that lingers, perfect. Two songs in, and we’re a standing show now.

By the second song, my anxiety had dissipated, and the world seemed back to normal. They continued with a couple more Bad Seeds songs, “Bright Horses” and “Night Raid.” It didn’t sound like more than half the band wasn’t present.

“White Elephant” and “Hand Of God” were immediately recognized by fans as potential Bad Seeds setlist staples, and the performances of those songs couldn’t have surpassed expectations anymore. Lyrically, Cave never offered such blatant social commentary as “White Elephant.”

“A protester kneels on the neck of a statue

The statue says, “I can’t breathe.”

The protester says, “Now you know how it feels.”

And he kicks it into the sea.”

Nick stalked the stage like a wild cat, gripping hands and shouting in fans’ faces in complete ecstasy to be on the receiving end. Spit flying and intense human contact, that was what a Nick Cave show was all about.

There wasn’t a person in the audience who was not entirely transfixed by the time “Hand of God” wrapped with its whispered ending to an otherwise full-out musical assault.

The tour leans heavily on two albums; Ghosteen and Carnage suffered complaints about them being atmospheric and lacking Cave’s former work intensity. This has been a complaint from fans since 1984. It’s nothing new.

However, the live treatment did a lot of these tracks justice. Cave’s voice has only ever seemed to grow, and it was as strong as ever. Ellis’ synth work was LOUD. It’s not lofty, easy, peasy lemon squeezy as it may appear coming through your earbuds from your phone while you’re taking the train to work. It was a different ball game. Much of the boosted energy comes from Luis Almau pulling double duties in the rhythm section on Bass and Drums. Hearing some of these songs with a live drum track changed the life of some songs, “Ghosteen” being one of the ones that stuck out to me. “Leviathan” is another one that I never paid much mind to on the album, and then after hearing it live, I found myself singing it to myself around the house.

The piano ballad selection of songs was just as beautiful as you’d imagine from any performance with Nick Cave and a piano. Still, the backup vocalists added extra layers, making them truly special. “I Need You” was an absolute highlight and damned near tear-inducing.

T Jae Cole grounded the vocals with the lows, Wendi Rose brought absolute divinity to “Lavender Fields” and the astounding Janet Ramus, who, if I may say, completely stole the song from the great P.J. Harvey. “Cosmic Dancer” was a treat, as well as some other Bad Seed favourites like “God Is In The House” and “Into My Arms.” Lastly, from the piano ballad section, I have to address “Balcony Man.” Well, Nick, you did it. He had said he feels like a front-row performer without the ability to reach the people in the wings or back in the stands. His answer is “Balcony Man.”

 “Every time I say balcony, you go fucking crazy,” said Cave.

“Balcony,” and the stands come to life with waves of bodies losing their shit. Every chorus and even peppered in verses, balcony men and women get to rejoice—another show highlight. A song that went completely under my radar on the album.

The banter with the crowd was phenomenal. I couldn’t tell you how often someone would yell out I love you, and Cave would respond, “I love you too.”

Eventually, even going, “Look, I really do, I love you, like totally” There were lots of laughs to be had, and due to being able to lean on the stage literally, I got to interact with Cave a bit.

“Hey Nick”


“Global viruses, World War 3 at the front door, HEY… It’s a wild world,” I said.

The audience laughs. He chuckles from behind the piano.

“You are a gloomy bastard, aren’t you?” he replied. “And here we’d almost forgotten about the war.”

Then he dedicated “Girl in Amber” to the recently deceased Anita Lane, ex-lover and member of The Bad Seeds.

Another thing easing some of the heavier content was that Cave and Ellis were spitting, seemingly uncontrollably, throughout the show. Ellis in a bucket, and Cave wherever the hell he wanted.

Their banter between each other was always warm and charming. No matter how many times Ellis counts in with a “one, two, three, four,” that would make the Ramones cry.

Cave would chuckle and ask, “are you ready” while Ellis scrambled with his nest of cords and pedals.

Ellis made disgruntled noises before he would reply, “almost.”

“It’s actually a very difficult song,” Cave told the audience. “it just seems like it’s simple.”

I couldn’t resist a little more banter with Cave.

“Ah yes, ‘Louie Louie’,” I said.

Cave turned wide-eyed and locked straight onto me, pointing.

“You’ve got it. You’re a fucking mind reader mate, ‘Louie Louie’”

Laughing, he set into the piano softly, “Louie Louie,” then continued into “Leviathan.”

They ended on “Balcony Man” before leaving the crowd to stir, screaming for an encore. The lights went down, and the band came back out going into “Hollywood,” a narrative that perfectly encapsulates how Cave’s vocals can be both terrifying and beautiful. Then a performance of “Henry Lee,” which he opened by saying, “this next song is a very old song, a murder ballad,” to which someone yelled out “32 years,” and he went, “Fuuuuuck, 32 years really? is that right?”

Ellis shook his head no, and Cave smiled.

“It’s not fucking….”

He trails off and introduces Janet Ramus.

I can’t say enough that Ramus blew the song out of the water. Tremendous power in her vocals. They all rushed back off stage, leaving the crowd stunned, but the lights haven’t returned. The screaming continues, and it’s complete pandemonium in the theatre.

Coming back out for what would be the final encore, they played “Into My Arms,” giving the crowd their sing-along song, and they closed with “Ghosteen Speaks.”

“Ghosteen Speaks” was one that I assumed would come off a little cheesy, not going to lie. I listened to it on the album, and I thought, meh. Being within reachable distance of Nick Cave as he slowly weaved his way over the audience singing

“I am beside you. I am beside you

Look for me, look for me

Well, I think they’ve

Well, they’ve gathered here for me

I am within you. You are within me

I am beside you. You are beside me

I think they’re singing to be free

I think they’re singing to be free

I think my friends have gathered here for me

I think they’ve gathered here for me

To be beside me

Look for me, look for me

I am beside you. You are beside me

You are beside me. Look for me.”

As they waved goodbye, somebody on the opposite end of the stage put up a sharpie and the Carnage record sleeve to get signed. I wasn’t missing my opportunity on that one. My copy of Pleasure Heads Must Burn shot up so fast Cave took my marker, signed it, then was immediately rushed with a wave of merch from people.

He went “Woah Woah Woah,” took my marker, signed a few things for people then brought it back to me. I’ve been to multiple shows of his, and I’ve never seen this happen.

When they finally walked off, I was left in a daze akin to an acid-fueled cuddle puddle leaving everybody in euphoria and speechless.

And the main trick of the business.

Leave them wanting more.

Now I can’t go into too many details, or I’d have to kill you, but I was gifted two tickets from Cave’s management for the Montreal show on April 2 and a ticket for April 3 for my mother. How Rock and Roll was that? I was catching a plane to see Nick Cave two more times. My luck could not get any better.

Do you know what wasn’t rock and roll? Me, on that plane. April 1 rolled up on me. I left at 9 am Pacific and arrived at 5 pm Eastern time. The whole day was lost to the sky.

I tried to watch movies to take my mind off the fact I was in a tube in the sky, and if anything went wrong, there was little chance of survival. Was the edible a good call? Was it hurting or helping? Who knew? Nothing beats being on the ground. Every shift turn, incline or decline, I found myself gasping and reaching out to nothing, trying to get my balance. The pilot said we were almost there, and I looked out the window. Snow, fucking snow. I moved to Vancouver Island to get away from the snow. Fuck snow. We land. Fuck flying.

April 2, I found my way to the venue. Whenever I’m in Quebec, I feel like a complete idiot, then I leave and realize everything is upside down, backwards, and in French. It’s not me. It’s you, Sacre Bleu. The venue was massive.

I got to the merch booth and it hadn’t been set up yet, but who’s there – Luis Almau, the youngblood slapping skins and bass. He was just about to pass through the glass we mere mortals cannot cross when I called out to him.

“Hey man, just a quick question there,” the dude working the booth answers for him.

“Yeah, dude, what’s up,” said Almau.

“I know you don’t play on the album, but you’re on tour, and I wondered if you’d sign my record,” I said.

He seemed genuinely surprised, signed my record and corrected me.

“I actually did play on the album, though,” he said.

Didn’t I tell you I feel stupid in Montreal? I apologized, and he was super cool. I told him I caught them in Vancouver, loved the show, and had family out here, so I decided to do it again. Right then, my luck started to turn around in a significant way.

A woman with the lanyard of employee status approached me overhearing this and asked if there was anything I had that I’d like Ellis to sign. We exchanged emails. She took the records I brought that had him on them, and they all disappeared beyond the glass. I was that close to missing one hell of an opportunity.

I decided to take my mother the first night with my two complimentary tickets. She wasn’t 100 percent in the know of what the show would be like, but I got the idea she thought I was dragging her to something more akin to the Birthday Party era. The theatre is one of the most prestigious in Montreal, stunning. The setlists were nearly identical, however, there was a distinct difference in the atmosphere of the Montreal shows and Vancouver. In Montreal, you still had to be masked, and there was no standing. The sound was better in Montreal. At the first pound of the drums, it cut through the room like a knife.

There was less banter between the crowd. Cave said, “I can’t see your faces, but I hope you’re having a good time out there,” A very muffled rumble of shouts and applause responded.

He tried several times to motion for people to stand up, but people were not biting. Vancouver felt like we were all coming out of the pandemic, for better or worse, and Montreal felt like we were still in it. Cave seemed mildly annoyed, saying, “I thank you for risking your lives, coming to a concert.”

When he mentioned his fondness for Fairmont Bagels in Montreal, the crowd began to rumble back, some wooing, some opposed saying other bagel places.

One difference in the setlist was the addition of “Jubilee Street,” the only song on the setlist where it felt like The Bad Seeds were missing. Other than that, they had the setlist reined into a well-honed unit without much room for variation. Cave spat far less, and Ellis seemed to spit more, even joking about auctioning the spit bucket off on the final night.

The show wrapped up, and my mother wasn’t completely sold. She thought Cave was a theatrical Neil Diamond. My phone went off, and it was the email telling me my signed records were ready and waiting.

A bag of incredible loot was dug out from under the merch table. Not only did Ellis sign everything, but Cave did too. “To Tyler with love.”

I went from zero luck to all of it. I also got an additional email that I won two tickets from Bad Feeling Magazine.

April 3, the final night of the tour. The two tickets I won from the contest went to friends.

I was on a single solitary mission that cold, miserable night. I waited for a couple of hours before the doors opened.

I saw security come out from time-to-time walkie-talkies in hand. It seemed like the right spot. I saw the assistant that hooked me up majorly the night before go walking through that door. Then it came, that big black van, and the driver said, “They told me not to say anything” Dummy van, fucking decoy. Another van rolls up. The wizard himself rolls out. Mr. Warren Ellis seemed mildly taken back as if he’s still not used to his celebrity status.

“Hey Warren, you signed everything I had for you yesterday, and I can’t thank you enough for that,” I said.

“Well, you’re too cool, not too man,”

“Could I get a picture?” I asked.

He comes over for a picture. My hands are so cold I can hardly manage to hit the button.

“You hold it, and I’ll hit the button,” he offered.

He tapped the snap. Boom.

“Thanks, Warren. I appreciate it.”

“Of course, man,” said Ellis. “Cool trousers, those are fantastic trousers, really cool trousers.”

The setlist was the same as the night before; Crowd was set for the same path. This is where I’ve had to make moves for the people. When “Hand of God” started up, I darted to the front of the stage, and about five other people came with me. Security tapped me on the shoulder. I played stupid tourist. He left. I looked back a little later, and there was a couple of security. One waves and walks away. That’s all it takes to turn a sitting show into a standing show. Everyone was cool, sticking to the side, staying out of people’s way who weren’t into it.

Cave grabbed our hands, sang, shouted, and encouraged the carnage. Ellis’s spit bucket auctioning got up to $40 in offers, but they wouldn’t let go of such an artifact for mere pennies.

The show ended, and they thanked the crowd for closing out the tour with them. I raced around to the back of the building and waited. I saw one other person with a camera waiting. I was in the right area. It’s got to happen. A gate opened around 1:30 am, revealing two loading trucks and one big black van with tinted windows.

They were still there.

The gate closed again, and spirits sank a bit, but the van literally could not leave without them coming back up. Waiting, waiting and then, not the gate, but a side door swings open and Cave stumbles out into the cold Montreal streets. His team of people sounded off, “Nick, Nick, Nick,” trying to rush him back in, but he turned, walked over to us, and said hello and asked if we’d like pictures or autographs. He said he remembered me from Vancouver, and after the picture, he signed my records. The last record, which I had placed there for a good reason, was Honeymoon in Red. A project he put together with Lydia Lunch that he was credited as Drunk Junkie Cowboy on after they had a falling out. He infamously doesn’t sign this record. A photographer I know who’s known Cave since the ’80s couldn’t get his copy signed.

“Now, I know this next one is a bit of a gamble for you, but I do love that album,” I said.

“Normally, I’d never put my name on that fucking thing,” he groaned.

“I truly appreciate it. Thanks, Nick.”

At that moment, the rest of the band walked out. We walked back in the same direction toward their van. I exchanged emails with Almau and pitched him on shooting a podcast. You never know what the future holds.

The shows were not half Bad Seeds shows. They were a whole different ball of wax. Whole being the primary word. What Cave was able to do on this tour and the Bad Seeds couldn’t do was take it back to theatres and small venues. Arenas are great when you’re on the floor, but you can be the Balcony Man in a theatre, even in the cheap seats. I leave you with a Nick Cave quote for the constrictive nature of the Montreal shows and the people there for it.

“Peace will come, a peace will come, a peace will come in time

A time will come, a time will come, a time will come for us.”

Consider supporting to keep the ideas flowing! Become a Patron! 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s