Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace
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Idiot Prayer is Cave at the piano, crooning about lost loves, gothic misdeeds and existential ills in the same breath. It’s a far cry from his hell-raising output – but no less powerful.
The global coronavirus outbreak is currently dealing huge blows to the live music industry worldwide. Slews of tours, concerts and festivals have been cancelled or postponed, to cut the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace, filmed in June 2020, was initially imagined as an online only event. However, fans will now be able to see the film in cinemas as an extended cut featuring four unseen performances. On November 20, the music will be released as a double album of the same name featuring all 22 songs from the original film on vinyl, CD and streaming.
The film kicks off with Cave doodling in his notebook in a dimly lit room. He stands up and ambles out of the shadows, down the steps of London’s Alexandra Palace, through hallways, past artworks and mirrored ceilings. It’s vast, empty and eerily reminiscent of the scene in 28 Days Later where the protagonist finds himself roaming the streets of London alone. Finally, Cave reaches his destination – a cavernous hall – and sits down at his piano.
A reaction to the strict regulations on public gatherings that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, Cave plays his songs solo. No band. No theatricality. None of his signature mix of debauched tent-revivalist, junkie poet, and gothic troubadour. No pummelling, ecclesiastically orgasmic songs. Filmed by The Favourite cinematographer Robbie Ryan, Idiot Prayer is the world’s loneliest concert film.
‘Palaces of Montezuma’. ‘Far From Me’. ‘The Mercy Seat’. ‘Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry’. ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ and ‘Girl In Amber’. ‘Spinning Tree’. ‘The Ship Song’. Stripped down and with more of a focus on the lyrics, the set list draws from the Bad Seeds (particularly the critically acclaimed, piano-based 1997 album The Boatman’s Call) and Grinderman, right through to the most recent Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album, Ghosteen. It also includes rare songs, such as ‘Euthanasia’, that most fans will hear for the first time.
Aided by the sombre context and huge venue, it’s an evocative, heart-in-the-mouth performance, and another reminder that Cave isn’t just about abrasion and shock. His love of the singer-songwriter tradition goes bone deep; he’s never been shy about his admiration of Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Leonard Cohen, Marianne Faithful, and PJ Harvey. Idiot Prayer is Cave at the piano, crooning about lost loves, gothic misdeeds and existential ills in the same breath. It’s a far cry from his hell-raising output – but no less powerful.
For four decades, Nick Cave has been at the edge of music, putting his spin on everything from punk rock to lovesick ballads – assembling a body of work that is astonishing for its range and energy. With Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace, he uses live music as a resource to help feed and nourish his audience’s emotions, providing us with an opportunity to escape the constraints of everyday life during a rather crappy year.