Nick Cave, covered by shadow, strode on stage, past a mic stand, and took a seat at a grand piano as a pre-recorded recital of his poem Steve McQueen shook the darkness.

"I am God," it sternly repeated until a warm blue light splintered the dark and Cave began to play The Ship Song, the first tune of the evening. When he finished the house lights came back on, eye-squintingly bright, and he leapt off his seat with such bounce that it threatened to crease his crisp grey suit.

It was quickly apparent that most attendees at this 'In Conversation' show did consider themselves to be in the presence of, well, if not the God, certainly a God.

The show was, essentially, an unmoderated audience Q&A session regularly interrupted by song. He was game for anything and emboldened his audience to ask "bold questions".


"I'll take a lot of questions I have no authority to talk of," Cave said as way of introduction, "but I'll give it a go."

"And make sure there's a question at the end of what you're talking about," he warned. "If you have a question and I play a song it's because the question's bullshit and I need to... recalibrate."

As it turned out one of the great joys of the evening was watching Cave's bullshit-o-meter at work. Being relatively new to these In Conversation shows he has not yet mastered the art of keeping his slack-jawed puzzlement disguised when confronted with a rambling, nonsensical, non-question. When hit with a particularly labyrinthine statement his whole face would twist and contort in dumbfounded, bewildered confusion.

"I don't know what the f**k you're asking, actually," he replied to one addled statement. "Spit it out, man!" he implored another long-winded chap. A desultory diatribe about - I think - pop music was cut off mid-flow with a simple and quite final, "Okay."

A mother and daughter pair of uber-fans left an impression. Chyna Wilkinson, the teenaged daughter, presented him with a painting she'd done while her beaming mum asked what he thought of it.

"It's beautiful," he answered sincerely, giving Chyna a hug. "And it's small. That's important."

But dear old mum wasn't done. "Do you accept the concept that you're... like Jesus?"

Cave didn't. So she asked again. "But you are. Like Jesus." Once again, he demurred. Undeterred, she asked a third time.


"Jesus Christ!" he exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air in mock frustration. "Well, I have the patience of Christ."

The exchange was laugh out loud funny and Cave, who can be extremely threatening, foreboding and intimidating in performance and in song, proved to be extremely personable, quick witted and in possession of a deep, droll humour.

Befitting a life spent on stage he knew to play to the home crowd. The worst thing about being an ageing rock star, he said when asked, was seeing so many old faces in the crowd. Scanning deeply around the audience he exclaimed, "Actually, you're a helluva lot younger than f**king Wellington!" to a round of hoots and cheers.

After dismissing a question on Australian politics he said, "You've got a good person running the country, right?".

"My big desire is to see Jacinda wearing one of my wife's dresses," he continued, referring to his wife Susie's fashion label, The Vampire's Wife. "Put that in the f**king news! Let's make it happen."

His favourite gig? "I don't know... Split Enz maybe?"


And it wouldn't be New Zealand without the obligatory question about the country.

"I got beaten up here," he recounted with a sly smile, before describing past drunk obnoxiousness with early band The Birthday Party.

He was off the cuff, spontaneous, but those regularly received questions got well rehearsed answers.

"My favourite album is the last one... and the first one," he said, before the punchline a beat later, "the ones in between aren't bad either."

That was the fun stuff. But there was also plenty of serious and insightful stuff into his thoughts, music, and life to satisfy.

Amongst the revelations were that Murder Ballads, one of his most successful albums, started as a joke, to perform signature tune Stagger Lee he has to "open himself up to the terribleness of that song," and he was absolutely terrified of - and by - Nina Simone.


Cave also had a lovely turn of phrase. He referred to growing older as being filled with a, "luminous sadness". Describing his 9-to-5 songwriting process he said, "I need to keep my agonies at the office," and of meaning in his lyrics he said, "For me, truth is not the only game in town,".

In between answers he'd return to his piano. As a player he's fairly heavy handed, although he found his touch as the night went on, but extremely capable of coaxing out deep emotion, building earth-shattering crescendos and delivering performances that kick you right in the feels.

He played around 10 or so songs, including classics like Watching Alice, and The Mercy Seat, newer numbers like Into My Arms, and an incredibly intense performance of Stranger than Kindness that followed a recounting of how the song came to be. However, one shout-out request was denied.

"I can't sing Stagger Lee. I can't do it justice," he explained. "It's not that I won't, I just can't."

After almost three hours he took one final question. It was about sobriety. After thoroughly debunking the myth that drugs fuel creativity he stopped, looked around and sighed.

"I don't want to finish tonight being sort of, 'Don't use drugs,' he said waggling his finger and adopting an authoritative tone. "So, uh, one last question."