Following previous appearances during Fringe seasons, Camille O’Sullivan returns with her Adelaide Festival Palais debut, and potentially one of the final shows to be held at this venue upon the river. This is only the fourth performance of her tribute to the songs of Nick Cave so there is still ongoing fine-tuning and unfortunately one song had to be omitted from the set due to time constraints (Girl In Amber).
When she slinks out from the shadows cloaked in black to join her band, the audience murmuring comes to a halt and she begins to sing God Is In The House. There is a momentary pause towards the end of the song as a plane flies by overheard and Camille voices, “Safe journey.” There is almost a reprise during second song Still In Love, the guitar playing sounding like the plane from earlier. By third song, Jubilee Street, I notice a coarseness to her voice as she lets go, not only singing Nick Cave songs but appearing to channel his physical presence. She takes a moment to interact with the audience and tell us, “I’m terrified of flying, but I’ll do anything to get to Australia” before adding that she had been terrified by seeing a black swan earlier in the day.
Before (Are You) The One I’ve Been Waiting For she thanks her Australian friend Justine Mitchell (“wherever you are”) for introducing her to Nick Cave’s music via cassette in the 90s. Although Into My Arms starts faithfully as the recognisable piano ballad that it is, by the end it has been transformed by a high pitched guitar drone into something else entirely. In fact there appears to be a loud-quiet pattern developing in the running order of the set. At times when she has to compete with the roaring guitar squeals and other cacophony from the band behind her, later during Red Right Hand, she joins in by attacking the keyboard while her band mate is playing it.
There She Goes My Beautiful Word has the addition of saxophone and Camille swings the microphone, taking off her glittery heels, leaving the stage to now channel Patti Smith directly in front of the audience before returning to the stage and referring to this as “going down under”.
When later asked about having to sing the adult-themed lyrics to the song Stagger Lee, she admits that if you are going to do Nick Cave songs, then “you have to commit”. In fact many of the audience show their unfamiliarity with some of the works of Saint Nick when her intermittent screaming of profanities nearly drowned out by the rest of the band evokes laughter.
The appropriated lyrics from the Green Grass Of Home heralds the arrival of the sombre and beautiful Sad Waters, an early song from the back catalogue (although a recording of the Birthday Party performing Release the Bats had been played leading into There She Goes My Beautiful Word), the lyrics “across the sad waters” are entirely fitting in this setting upon the River Torrens. The Mercy Seat starts slowly before becoming like 60s song The Windmills of Your Mind gone heavy. She introduces one of her staples outside of a set of Nick Cave songs, The Ship Song as “my hug to you and my favourite” during which the choir vocal has been replaced by violin and the roaring guitar comes in like an extreme key change before going all quiet again and the band leave their places to stand with Camille at the microphone, the audience joining in to sing the chorus out.
For the encore Camille returns dressed in her black riding hood cloak and we are treated to only two more songs from the last Bad Seeds album, the title track Skeleton Tree and the perfect song to close the night, the beautiful Distant Sky on which she sings both vocal parts. Thank you Camille O’Sullivan for gracing us with your presence and thank you Justine Mitchell, wherever you are, we are all grateful.
Adelaide Festival Review By Jason Leigh