The line moved very slowly into Main Street’s Downstairs Monday night, with a colorful bunch of characters trying to prove they were on the list for a party celebrating “20,000 Days on Earth.” Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s unconventional music doc stars Nick Cave, and longtime fans seemed convinced an unadvertised live performance was in the offing.
Once inside, a grand piano in the corner confirmed their suspicion about impending music, though not necessarily about the performer. Greeting partygoers, Forsyth and Pollard initially joked that they themselves intended to serenade the crowd with some favorite duets.
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Cave emerged quickly to put fears to rest. Dapper as usual in slim-cut black suit and open-necked white shirt, he sat at the keyboard and pulled out a book of his music, justifying the cheat by saying he hadn’t done this in a while. Introducing his first song with the unlikely-sounding claim: “this is a song I actually wrote in Utah, when I was on honeymoon with my wife,” he played a version of “God is in the House” with lyrics slightly tweaked to reflect this week’s influx of black-clad Angelenos in Park City.
His second number was a stunner for those who’ve followed the artist from the early, noisy days of his group the Bad Seeds (a period Wim Wenders immortalized in Wings of Desire): His terrifying rocker “The Mercy Seat,” which describes the final thoughts of a man in the electric chair, was here stripped down to just Cave’s voice and the piano. It was mournful instead of apocalyptic, and many in the crowded room couldn’t help but sing along under their breaths.
“I’m so f—ing jet-lagged,” Cave complained at one point, though he looked rested and ready, his famous swept-back raven’s hair as imposingly sculpted as ever. For the last song in the 15-minute set, he recruited an audience member (OK, this audience member) to hold the music book open for “People Ain’t No Good.”
“Just follow the words, and when it gets to there, turn the page,” he instructed. “But stay out of the light.”
Despite the misanthropy of his closer, the singer seemed happy to hobnob afterward, posing for pictures with admirers. Perhaps he was energized by the buzz over the movie, a non-performance-oriented film that was described by partygoers who’d seen it as an entertaining, provocative break from the usual rock-doc format.
- This article originally appeared in THR.com.