As far as harbingers of the apocalypse go, few have made divine retribution sound as alluring as Nicholas Edward Cave.
As far as harbingers of the apocalypse go, few have made divine retribution sound as alluring as Nicholas Edward Cave. Unequalled by anyone except perhaps Johnny Cash, the Aussie icon preaches a gospel of romantic and religious concerns that is universally simple in its storytelling, yet disarmingly dredged from the most personal regions of its creator's heart. In other words, you can't help but be drawn in by Cave's utter honesty as an artist.
What sets Cave apart from the majority of his contemporaries throughout the years is his unswerving longevity. Over the course of 13 albums and more or less two decades (more, if you count his days in The Birthday Party), he has vented his own spitting, vengeful word in uncompromising fashion. They say that everyone has one novel, one story in them, but - while that may be true for many who imitate Cave for a record or so and then disappear under the radar - his muse has survived with no perceptible decrease in quality. Over all the murder ballads, bittersweet love odes and quasi-religious rants of despair and fulfilment, Cave has many, many tales in him - and the fact he is a published author only confirms the fertility of his imagination.
Cave, then, appears on stage in much the same guise as his attendant Gothic imagery over the years would have us imagine - plain black suit (pared down to a waistcoat for the encore), open-necked white shirt and pointed shoes making complete the old-time funeral director's look. The hair, meanwhile, is groomed back in the trademark vampiric widow's peak, while his band of Bad Seeds - among them his long-time collaborators Mick Harvey and Warren Ellis - stand before a blood-red curtained backdrop. The overall effect is akin to a David Lynch movie, but with an even better soundtrack.
Aside from a few words of gravel-voiced thanks grunted in the direction of the audience, Cave remained relatively taciturn throughout, as far as between-song interaction went. But he was not the snarling, adrenalin-pumped dynamo that characterises his finest performances. Perhaps saving himself for the remainder of the tour ahead, he seemed for the most part just as content to lean on the monitor and puff a cigarette, or gesticulate pointedly to his audience from behind the stationary mic.
The majority of the set was culled from the latest double album, Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus. But unfamiliar though the songs may have been to most, the crowd greeted them with a hymnal devotion. Yet it was the greatest-hits encore that demonstrated the true depth of feeling among the faithful. "The Weeping Song", "Red Right Hand", "The Ship Song" and the tuneful bar-room dust-up of "Deanna" got a ferocious response, but the tender, majestic "God Is in the House" was the moment of the evening. Cave may be more fallen angel than deity, but you would not have known it here - even after all these years, he puts most people who havesung in public to shame.
Brixton Academy, London SW9, tonight to FridayReuse content