‘Idiot Prayer’ serves as the final film in a trilogy—along with ’20,000 Days on Earth’ and ‘One More Time with Feeling’—and is its luminous and heartfelt climax. ‘Idiot Prayer’ is a prayer into the void—alone at Alexander Palace. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.
A big emptiness has been growing in these lockdown times. It’s a lack of live music, much more than a form of entertainment – it’s a sense of community, togetherness. Scores of strangers gathering together to experience familiar music they love, or fresh music that they’ve just discovered. Creative minds have been working up ideas on how to continue this during social distancing. There’s been ideas drawn up for drive-in concerts, where you can experience a show from the comfort of your car (if you have one!), or turning massive fields into new concert locations, with distantly-spaced platforms for fans to gather in their social bubbles. Both have a range of issues. But sliding in to fill the gap, we have the Internet. We can stream shows to our hearts’ content. Which brings us to Nick Cave and his Idiot Prayer performance.
The idea came about after Cave’s recent “Conversations with…” tour – Nick and a piano, deconstructing songs from throughout his career. He wanted to record these new imaginings, but when COVID-19 hit, all the studios closed. So what nicer alternative than a massive empty theatre? The Alexandra Palace is a beautiful setting for a solemn grand piano, and a tour of Nick Cave’s musical career.
Idiot Prayer begins with some shots tracking Cave walking through Ally Pally, the building quiet and eerily devoid of life. Like a shadowy ghost wandering the halls. If you’ve ever been in an empty theatre, you’ll know how barren they feel without an audience there. But in this film, it feels quite poignant. Vacancy is the lockdown’s zeitgeist, with many cities around the world missing their usual crowds. It also hails to the strip-backed treatment of the songs.
As soon as he’s seated, Nick Cave begins “Idiot Prayer”, the concert’s namesake from the Bad Seeds’ final album in the ’90s, The Boatman’s Call. Its lyrics delicate and hopeful, and (yet again) perhaps reminiscent of the times.
Will I bid you adieu? / Or will I be seeing you soon? / If what they say around here is true / Then we’ll meet again / Me and you
Cave’s voice is rich, deep, somewhat husked by the years. We’re taken back to 1986 for “Sad Waters”, making stops at nearly every Bad Seeds album in the space of 90 minutes. We are given a spectrum of ballads, from the intense and God-fearing “The Mercy Seat”, to the wistful “(Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?”. The song choices are deeply sentimental, and beautifully performed. Cave’s soul is bared for all.
We’re also treated to a number of songs that haven’t been played infront of a live audience for some time, including a selection of Grinderman songs. Grinderman was an untamed spin-off, formed some 15 years ago as an “escape” from the expectations of the monumental Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It’s this wild, untamed nature of Grinderman that makes the inclusion of their songs so unexpected. Well, if you’re expecting “No Pussy Blues”, you’ll be disappointed but perhaps happy to be so. Instead we have dreamy world of “Palaces of Montezuma” and the wrenching “Man in the Moon”.
The silence as each song ends is peculiar, miles different to what we’d grown used to pre-COVID. In a way it’s a relief – I’m sure many of us have been to gigs that have been tarnished by over-eager comedians shouting during even the most lovely of songs. Instead, we can pause and play at will, chat to our sofa-mates and reminisce of past Bad Seeds gig experiences. Maybe this could become to new norm, at least until it’s safe again to bump shoulders with the masses.