Nick Cave at Musiikkitalo, Helsinki (June 25th, 2024)

vividly recall Nick Cave’s tour stop in Helsinki on the “Conversations with Nick Cave” tour in 2019. Not just because I was one of the lucky few selected to sit on stage with the performer during the first of his two-night stand here that year.

The main reason was Cave’s utter confidence and uncommon ease with the audience, which few, even the most charismatic performers, can muster. These moments of presence are often what we take away from a concert as much as the experience of the music itself. 

Cave brought this informal, personal vibe to his current tour stop, which visited Helsinki this week for three sold-out performances. 

When I saw David Bowie in 2004 on his sixth and final visit to Minnesota, he walked on stage, looked around at the Target Center audience in Minneapolis, and said to a man in the front row, “Hi, I’m David. What’s your name?” As 15 to 20 thousand people would not have time to introduce themselves individually, Bowie asked us to scream our answers simultaneously at the top of our lungs and imagine he could hear us.  (The Minnesota Public Radio recap of that show upon Bowie’s death in 2016 references my review on 

Of course, Bowie couldn’t hear. But when you shout at Nick Cave during one of his intimate performances, he does because it’s otherwise so quiet you can hear a pin drop. He responds and remembers what you said, sometimes years later, as he did when it came to a young woman who worked in a morgue who had asked a question at the Conversations with Nick Cave in 2019.  (Even the Helsinki Sanomat review mentions that he recalled where she was sitting.) 

Cave turned a guy named Michael’s shout-out to play “Jubilee Street” towards the show’s beginning into a motif that really tied the show together, interacting with him throughout the evening. That ability amounts to genius when it comes to live performance. (In retrospect, it’s funny because we were sitting so close behind Cave’s piano that we could see the setlist, which indicated “Jubilee Street” was planned as the second-to-last song of the set.) 

Anyway, seven paragraphs into this review, maybe I could mention the music, eh? On bass, Colin Greenwood from Radiohead, who plays on Cave’s forthcoming album, “Wild God,” accompanied Cave on most of the songs, contributing the low notes and adding to the class and variety of the performance. The setlist was a self-described survey of 45 years of songs (see it here), which Cave had hoped to reduce to their essence. About the 45 years part, he said, “It’s fucking terrifying.”

Nick Cave photo by Sami Kilpiö lifted from the Helsinki Sanomat review. If you look closely, you can see me sitting in the first row at the end, right above Nick Cave’s head.

Those of us who have been Birthday Party/Nick Cave fans for almost that long were thrilled to have him cover the Boys Next Door/Birthday Party song “Shivers,” recorded in 1979 as the first song of the encore. And it seemed a touching tribute to Marc Bolan that he included a cover of one of my favorite T Rex songs, “Cosmic Dancer,” with an inspired bass solo by Greenwood. I was unaware Cave had recorded the song in 2020 on a tribute album called “Angel-headed Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T. Rex.”  

For over two and a half hours, Cave did what he does best: he created a mood and sustained it, lulling us into something opposite of complacency. Although Cave’s stage banter is often hilarious and doesn’t always reference personal inspirations behind all the songs, you know they are deeply felt. Before playing “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry,” he noted that the boy he wrote it for as a lullaby (a scary lullaby, perhaps), his son Luke, was now a father himself, making him a grandfather. I sensed Cave’s joy despite knowing that Cave had lost two sons in the past nine years. 

Cave’s music resonates deeply with his fans and tends to seep into the fabric of our lives. For me, for example, “Ghosteen” dropped the same day my friend Ed Ackerson died on October 4th, 2019, and those two events are tied together for me; somehow, the album provided the perfect soundtrack to the sadness, all more poignant as the album was written in the aftermath of the death of Cave’s son Arthur, who died in 2015 at the age of fifteen. 

Tuesday’s show was not my favorite of the half-dozen times I’ve seen him. At least from where I was sitting very close to the stage, the sound was slightly overmodulated at times and muddy. I think the show could have benefited from being a little quieter. (At least Thursday’s show had a clearer sound, I’m told.) But the main thing is, it was still quintessential Nick Cave from start to finish, and on the morning after, I was still swimming in the music, feeling the mood, feeling myself back there when I closed my eyes. 

Isn’t that the most we can ask from a concert experience? It is not a piece of chewing gum that you discard when the taste is gone. It should be more like a tattoo that stays with you after leaving the venue and fades slowly over time. 

Cave is on a European tour this summer, and if tickets are still available, do yourself a favor and see him. 

“Wild God,” the new album from Nick Cave, will be released on August 30th

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *