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Nick Cave’s ‘Idiot Prayer’ Is a Lonely Testament to His Greatness

With touring put on hold due to COVID-19, Nick Cave descended upon London’s Alexandra Palace, sans Bad Seeds, to record a haunting solo performance.

Image of Nick Cave performing 'Idiot Prayer'

'Idiot Prayer' might only be Nick Cave by his lonesome, but its effect is more powerful than ever.

If there’s one thing that Nick Cave has become adept at in his more than 40 years in the music industry, it’s how to make a listener truly feel something special. It might feel almost clichéd to simplify his music to that level, but in case you needed proof, a simple viewing of his latest concert film, Idiot Prayer, is all it takes.

Premiering at 8pm AEST this evening, Idiot Prayer: Alone At Alexandra Palace is exactly what its title implies, featuring a solo performance by Cave, filmed at the London venue (by award-winning cinematographer Robbie Ryan) just last month. It also serves as the final film in a trilogy, following 20,000 Days on Earth and One More Time With Feeling.

“I loved playing deconstructed versions of my songs at these shows, distilling them to their essential forms – with an emphasis on the delivery of the words,” Cave explained in a statement upon its announcement. “I felt I was rediscovering the songs all over again, and started to think about going into a studio and recording these reimagined versions at some stage – whenever I could find the time.

“Then, of course, the world went into lockdown. The Bad Seeds’ global 2020 tour was postponed. Studios shut down. Venues shut down. And the world fell into an eerie, self-reflective silence.”

Indeed, Idiot Prayer is as eerie as it is beautiful. Beginning with a sequence that wouldn’t feel out of place in a documentary about Cave himself, its opening features little more than the artist traversing Alexandra Palace as the lyrics to “Spinning Song” are recited via a voiceover.

As he walks the cavernous West Hall towards his piano, the feeling of isolation is almost visceral, with the sheer emptiness of the space feeling almost overbearing. Within seconds though, the feeling of emptiness is minimised as the camera finds its target, focusing on Cave as he begins this almost 90-minute set by diving into the film’s namesake.

It’s almost impossible to find fault with the quality of Cave’s performance. After all, there’s a reason he’s one of Australia’s most famous musical exports. Even as he alone travels through his excessive and well-known back catalogue – ranging from early cuts with The Bad Seeds, a tune from Grinderman, and even his band’s most recent album – it’s hard to not take away something new with each and every line he howls.

Notably, one of the highlights of Idiot Prayer comes by way of new song “Euthanasia”, which sits nicely between the Christian imagery of “The Mercy Seat” and the evocative storytelling of “Jubilee Street”. A mesmerising cut that feels as though it was written as part of the sessions for the critically-acclaimed Ghosteen, there’s no word yet as to whether this song will appear on a forthcoming release.

Ultimately though, the beauty of Idiot Prayer lies within its simplicity. While there’s an entirely different kind of joy present in hearing these songs performed by Cave and his renowned bandmates, to hear them played in such a manner, and against such a backdrop, provides an entirely different feeling altogether.

Stripping back the luscious instrumentation and leaving only the bare bones of the tracks, the soul-baring approach gives both Cave and the average listener an experience that is truly inexplicable. Of course, it’s not all the doom and gloom of Cave’s lyrics, with moments of subtle humour – whether it be by a casual chuckle between songs, or a lighthearted finish to one track – injected into the mix to ensure that there’s still a sense of levity throughout the performance.

While the year that is 2020 has robbed fans of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds from seeing the iconic group live, Idiot Prayer is not simply a film to tide you over – it’s a performance that will last forever.

Nick Cave’s Idiot Prayer will premiere at 8pm AEST on Thursday, July 23rd as a ticketed event. Tickets to the broadcast are available via Cave’s website.