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Nick Cave and Warren Ellis Bring Pathos, Rage to "Woyzeck"

October 16, 2008 11:48 AM ET

The characters in Georg Buchner's play Woyzeck are fueled by pride, haunted by the past, overcome with testosterone and ultimately crippled by their own pathos. So it makes perfect sense that Nick Cave composed new songs for a production of the play first developed by the Reykjavik City Theater and imported to the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of their Next Wave series. The songs (co-written with Dirty Three founder and sometimes Bad Seed Warren Ellis) sound like they could have been outtakes from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!: dark, churning rock tunes sometimes broken up by tender ballads and tongue-in-cheek goofs, highlighted by the entrance of a character called the Drum Major, who sings his own theme song while hanging from a trapeze as masculinity oozes from his pores.

The Drum Major's acrobatic act is one of the many visual accomplishments of the show. The centerpiece of the set is a giant water tank where the actors swim, dance and contort themselves in an incredibly physically demanding ninety minutes. The play follows the title character as he is insulted by his boss, humiliated by military tests and cuckolded by his wife. It's an amazing play even without the songs, but Cave's tunes end up playing an integral part in the narrative, and he channels late 19th century German sturm und drang into his muscular blues with ease.

Related Stories:
Album Review: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig, Lazurus, Dig!!!
Nick Cave Sings the Blues
Nick Cave Sails With the Seeds

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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