As the disembodied baritone intoned during a none-more atmospheric introduction: “Someone’s gotta sing the pain”- but after four decades of performance, Nick Cave is now relishing, in his own words, the healing power of love.
Amid the doom, the gloom, the blood and thunder, and visceral exposition of the darker side of the soul, Cave’s songwriting has always flickered with humanity, tenderness and humour.
Those qualities are now at the forefront of his new hugely engaging live performances which are not just a showcase of his prodigious talent, but also an exercise in connecting with his audience in a genuinely affecting way.
The subtitle of the concert, An Evening of Talk and Music, brings to mind a pre-ordained setlist of songs interspersed with a few carefully rehearsed anecdotes.
But Friday’s show was a far more compelling prospect, taking the form of an open discussion with the crowd (through spontaneous questions and answers) and a selection of songs, partially dictated by those conversations.
The format of the show, and his new-found openness, has followed the loss of his 15-year-old son Arthur and the huge public support he received in the aftermath.
After receiving hundreds of letters and emails he started the Red Hand Files, an online forum where he responded at length to the correspondence.
He explained that the forum and subsequent concerts had been therapeutic, hugely meaningful and lifesaving: “It made me connect with my audience on a whole new level...the terrible beauty of this awful trauma is that you can come out the other side as a different person.”
The questions on the night ranged from heavy-hitters such as sexual politics, drugs, climate change, and religion (“I’m not saying God exists, but I live my life as if he does), to the slightly less weighty concerns of whether men should wear flip-flops.
The man described as the ‘Prince of Darkness’ in bygone years, was generous, funny and honest throughout, and only shied away from a couple of dull questions.
The inquisitors were from near and far, as Polish, Israeli, US, French, Italian, Belgian, Slovakian super-fans all chipped in, but the goodwill wasn’t restricted to wide-eyed hardcore Cave-ites.
The following day he would be part of a minor social media kerfuffle with his very reasoned online response to a question about Morrissey’s recent support for far-right political parties , and on Sunday made his way to Pilton Farm for a duet with Kylie at Glastonbury.
Musically, even without the sturm and drang of the Bad Seeds, he created a powerful but surprisingly intimate sound with every hammering piano chord and every note from a voice which is becoming warmer and more sonorous with time.
The Mercy Seat was as magnificent as it ever was, and the murder ballad Stagger Lee seemed even more malevolent and foul.
Cave’s masterful cover of Leonard Cohen’s Avalanche made a welcome return and elsewhere their were songs of the vintage variety, and some more recent efforts, including the relatively simple and ultimately optimistic closing track of the last album and the final song of the evening.
After three hours the standing ovation wasn’t just the recognition of an ever-improving performer, it was as much about celebrating the emotional eloquence of a brave, open, and inspiring artist who has opened himself to his audience and created a unique and rewarding partnership for both parties.