It was one of those Spinal Tap moments. Having leapt over the barrier outside the Astoria without creasing the immaculate cut of his pastel- blue suit, The Bad Seed's leader couldn't get in to his own gig. "But I'm Nick Cave," he protested to the over zealous bouncer. Eventually, the twin signifiers of quiff and rock star threads hit home, and the embarrassed doorman stepped aside.
Inside, the venue was rammed to the rafters. This isolated performance was scheduled to promote the "best of" album, documenting The Bad Seeds' fruitful 14-year career, and fans had snapped up the free tickets eagerly. Short support sets from Bad Seeds members Blixa Bargeld and Mick Harvey set a suitably sombre tone for Cave's Old Testament and Southern Gothic- shot greatest hits. By the time Nick came on, though, it was clear he wasn't going to play a full-length set. Fortunately, quality rode rough- shod over quantity.
The audience were happy to oblige when Cave left gaps to encourage their karaoke en-masse during "Do You Love Me", and looking around it was clear that despite charges of misogyny, and the love-lies-bleeding lyrical imagery of 1996's Murder Ballads album, this Elvis-of-the-macabre is still a big hit with the girls. Perhaps it's more understandable when one considers Cave's intellect and sensitivity. Tonight, he was certainly more Jekyll than Hyde when he took a pew at the piano for "Into My Arms". Its oddly arresting opening line, "I don't believe in an interventionist God", highlighted Cave's fascination with key theological debates, but the song is also an honest confessional and a timelessly beautiful ballad.
In contrast, the Cave who gesticulated - fundamentalist preacher style with a fag as a prop - during the John Lee Hooker-inspired "Tupelo" and the stirring, death-row snapshot "The Mercy Seat" was a somewhat tongue- in-cheek character. He gave these performances everything though, his sub-bass croon now replaced by bellowing roars, and his quiff dishevelled through punkish thrash.
Bad Seeds fans are always pleased to see tubular bells on stage, these signifying a performance of "Red Right Hand". Tonight Cave dedicated it to his son Luke on his seventh birthday. Despite its poetic foreboding and creeping doom, this made sense, given that the song is the nearest that Cave has yet come to a Cat In The Hat story.
Later still, he dedicated "Nobody's Baby Now" to his friend Shane MacGowan, formerly of The Pogues. Whether this was because Shane had recently split from a partner, or because the song is one of his favourites was unclear. In any case it was a reminder that, like MacGowan, Cave can pen tunes that having heard just once, you think you've known all your life.
`The Best of ' is out now on Mute records.