Concert Reviews

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis Were Nothing Short of Majestic Friday Night

Nick Cave filled the Majestic with a dignified beauty at a Friday night show.
Nick Cave filled the Majestic with a dignified beauty at a Friday night show. Mike Brooks
The Majestic Theatre might just have been made for a performance by Nick Cave and his longtime collaborator Warren Ellis.

In the midst of the pandemic, Cave and Ellis got together to record Carnage, a critically acclaimed album that picked up where the two had left off in the unsettling atmosphere Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds had cultivated on 2019’s Ghosteen. With the backdrop of the historic Dallas theater — its red velvet chairs, gold trim and regal ambiance — Cave and Ellis created an atmosphere of impressive beauty and dignity that was nothing short of majestic.

A look down the Majestic’s narrow aisles through a light haze of fog revealed a stage set with large spotlights, multiple mic stands, a drum kit, a grand piano and a lone chair surrounded by amps and pedals. The crowd filled in slowly to the pace of chamber music played over the venue’s PA.

The walk-in music grew louder and more unsettling as the 8 o’clock hour arrived, culminating in an overpowering ethereal crescendo that drowned out any audience noise. The lobby lights flashed, the doors closed, lights went dark and the crowd erupted to its feet.

Ellis entered the stage accompanied by three back-up singers to get the music started.
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Nick Cave and Warren Ellis stuck mostly to their co-written material at their joint Friday concert.
Mike Brooks
Suddenly, there was Nick Cave, taking the front of the stage dressed in a thin black suit with white shirt, speaking the opening lines of Ghosteen’s “Spinning Song” directing the air with his hands like a poet.

Ellis, seated next to him working the synthesizer underneath his long gray hair and beard, sang the high part leading into their song “Bright Horses.” Cave took his first seat at the grand piano at the song’s conclusion.

Despite Cave and Ellis’s long recording career through the Bad Seeds, Grinderman and Cave’s solo work, the duo stuck closely to the songs from Ghosteen and Carnage.

As the band entered the third song, “Night Raid,” Cave looked to his music stand, checking his notes to remind himself that the song’s story takes place in room 33 of somewhere called the Grand Hotel. At the song’s and the three-song cycle’s conclusion, Ellis raised his finger, making a finger gun to signal the conclusion.

Cave dedicated the first song of the night from Carnage to a fan in the audience who had contacted him. As the title track of the album began, the thunderous bass shook the seats, the stage lights and mood shifted.
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Nick Cave was a great showman at his weekend show in Dallas' Majestic Theatre.
Mike Brooks
Cave’s reputation as a showman became apparent as the band began the next song. Cave tossed another page from his music stand onto the ground, yelled out “White Elephant” and began dancing to the slow-throbbing rhythm in his angular way, like a cross between Mick Jagger and David Bowie.

Ellis remained seated at his synthesizer for the show’s duration, letting the three back-up singers and one touring musician handle the bass, drums, keys and whatever else was needed to fill in the negative space.

Aside from a small group of people standing in the Majestic’s orchestra pit, the audience also remained seated throughout the show, taking in the slow sonic pleasures creeping into the auditorium.

Cave introduced the audience to singer Wendi Rose at the beginning of “Lavender Fields,” after an enthralling performance of Ghosteen’s title track that made one fan in the audience exclaim, “Jesus,” at the songs conclusion. Rose was joined by her fellow backup singers just behind Cave to sing along with the chorus, “there is a kingdom in the sky.
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Warren Ellis and his longtime collaborator Nick Cave were perfect at the Majestic Theatre on Friday night.
Mike Brooks
After clearing his throat and emitting a quiet “yee-haw,” Cave exchanged a bit of banter with the audience, thanking them for the love, joking that he felt let down and lonely when fans first exclaimed their love for Ellis.

Five spotlights illuminated Cave as he began “Waiting for You” as though the singer was the center of a much larger star. The lights faded into one large spotlight as Cave began singing the first song of the night for a different album, “I Need You” from 2016’s Skeleton Tree, completely solo at his grand piano.

Ellis took out his violin for a performance of T. Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer,” prompting Cave to tease his counterpart that he was about to be showered with underwear — men’s underwear — to which Ellis replied, “I’ll take it.” The cover highlighted the hidden somberness of the original, replacing a groovy guitar with a solemn piano and raw violin and Cave’s bold voice in place of Marc Bolan’s dreamy crooning.

After one fan called out for Grinderman’s “Kitchenette,” Cave rubbed his chin, saying “Yeah, that’s a good song. It’s by a different band though.” The next song, he said, was also from another band. Ellis remained on violin for a riveting performance of “God Is in the House” from Nick Cave and the bad Seeds’ 2001 release No More Shall We Part.

Things turned angry at the start of “Hand of God” as Ellis began waving handbells like a madman, pounding the floor with his feet as Cave and the backup singers screamed out the ominous chorus bathed in red light. The audience then sat breathless as Cave whispered the song’s closing lines.
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Nick Cave was simply perfect at his Dallas show with Warren Ellis.
Mike Brooks
The mood softened again as the band performed a heavenly version of “Shattered Ground” and the atmospheric hymn “Galleon Ship.” The band also remained softened at the start of “Leviathan,” building its intensity with every passing note. Cave’s voice raised from a whisper to a growl and back again as the music became near-deafening in its slow-building climax to the hard “Stop” of the final line.

Cave invited the audience in the balcony to light up their faces with their iPhones and raise their voices to the word “balcony” in the main set’s conclusion, “Balcony Man.” The house lights came up after the song’s closing lines, “What doesn’t kill you makes you crazier,” and the fans' cheers beckoned the band back to the stage for a career-spanning double encore that included “Henry Lee” from 1996’s Murder Ballads and “Into My Arms” from 1996’s The Boatman’s Call.

For fans expecting the brooding rock of the Bad Seeds or frenetic chaos of Grinderman, it is possible that the slow pace of the Friday night show may have been something of a letdown. However, for those who find healing in the quieter moments of Cave and Ellis’s craftwork, the evening could not have been more perfect.
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Audiences turned out for Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, though they didn't throw underwear.
Mike Brooks
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David Fletcher writes about music, arts and culture for the Dallas Observer. You can usually find him at a show in Deep Ellum whether he's writing about it or not. A punk scholar and local music enthusiast, David focuses his attention on the artists screaming in the margins of Dallas' music scene.
Contact: David Fletcher