A set almost entirely drawn from an album charting Cave’s grief over the death of his son Arthur in 2015 and its follow-up offering more of the same but compounded by the frustrations of this year and last’s coronavirus lockdowns was never likely to be a barrel of laughs.
Uneasy listening would be closer to the mark, gruelling even, heartbreaking on occasion, as the veteran Australian alternative rock artist sang songs of waiting in vain for his baby to return home on a half-past-five train or loving something he’s no longer able to hold.
At times, many of those present must have felt less like a near-capacity audience than a mass gathering of grief counsellors or support group, but that’s surely what most would have expected given that this tour, Cave and Ellis’s first as a duo – accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Johnny Hostile and backing vocalists T Jae Cole, Janet Rasmus and Wendi Rose – is a partial replacement for 2020’s abandoned Ghosteen tour.
That said, though there might not have been much in the way of light and shade, just shade and more shade, it wasn’t all doom and gloom either. Cave was as jovial as he’s ever been between songs, no mean feat given the material on offer. Admittedly, the 64-year-old’s unlikely to be getting a call any time soon from Paul Chuckle asking him to take over from his late brother Barry but it’s all relative.
Six of Carnage’s eight tracks were included in a 20-song set – Balcony Man, Carnage, Hand of God, Lavender Fields, Shattered Ground and White Elephant – and nine from 2019’s Ghosteen, plus one from 2016's Skeleton Tree, so any fans of longer standing hoping for a generous helping of golden oldies were out of luck, though not entirely as 1996’s Henry Lee, 1997’s Into My Arms and 2001’s God is in the House also featured, all being given a rapturous reception.
The oldest song of the night, though, was the 1971 T Rex track Cosmic Dancer, covered by Cave for last year’s Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T Rex tribute album, and that too was given a warm welcome, not least for Ellis’s violin solo towards its end.
This was Cave’s fourth visit to the riverside venue following shows in 2005 and 2015 and a question-and-answer evening featuring songs in 2019, and he’s also played north of the Tyne in Newcastle with the Bad Seeds twice, at the former Tiffany’s Ballroom in 1985 and the old Riverside in 1989.
Other venues on the itinerary for Cave and Ellis’s tour include Stockton Globe next Wednesday, September 29, and Glasgow Theatre Royal on Monday, October 4.