That Cave was a man barely able to keep a grip on genuine torment: unhealthy, decadent, and seemingly damned. With his gaunt body, crow-black hair, and bleak lyrics, he was also, of course, an unwilling model for Goths everywhere.
His transformation into today's dapper man of letters, welcome in art centres worldwide, when duetting with Kylie Minogue, has been a startling if not unpleasant one. The challenge for him last night, reuniting with his great band The Bad Seeds is to stay connected to his works' old darkness, while being true to his new, healed self.
The sight of a group of sweet-voiced gospel singers is the first surprise. The familiar comfort of "The Ship Song'' is soon causing a few kisses in the crowd. But then, seconds later, Cave is erupting across the stage, for the southern gothic dreams of "Tupelo''. Windmilling his arms wildly one moment, stalking purposefully the next, he drives himself towards the song's heart. Bracing himself as if in a storm, his concluding threat that "you reap what you sow,'' has an appropriately apocalyptic edge.
Behind Cave, The Bad Seeds create a supple rock'n'roll noise. Roaming the stage as equals with the singer, they affect genuine, ramshackle chaos at times, as on the oldie "Deanna''.
When that coalesces into a sunny gospel coda, the mature virtuosity of Cave's veterans becomes clear. It is on the tunes from new double album Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues that the marked change of moral tone in Cave these days can be most clearly heard. Where once he walked in biblical darkness, his gospel choir emphasise a new sense of salvation.
A rampage through his classic "The Mercy Seat'' still gives vent to his abiding dark side. An Old Testament harsh unapologetic voice from the electric chair, it gives a balancing sense of unsaved sin. The Bad Seeds' accelerating gallop to its climax as Cave strikes Pentecostal preacher poses, is also a simply thrilling, rock'n'roll ride.
Perhaps the clearest model for Cave's , diverse approach is the early 70s Vegas show of one of his heroes, Elvis. Though he lacks Elvis's truly open-hearted nature, Cave is attempting the same mixture of abandon and sacred transcendence. The diversity of musicians at his disposal is one key. But it is the middle-aged Cave's apparent ascent into a kind of peace, while having the raging songs of his past, which really gives him range now.