As Sunday night’s storm clouds gathered, one of rock’s great polymath-storytellers whipped up a tempest of his own on the stage of the Hammersmith Apollo with the help of his six compadres.
Sharp-suited and spivvy, Nick Cave howled and crooned his way through songs of death, sex, savagery and deviancy interspersed with love ballads of exquisite tenderness. Almost as mesmerising as the man in black was Warren Ellis, a Bad Seed of long standing, who thrashed the living daylights out of his violin like a demented Rumpelstiltskin. Periods of finely calibrated restraint were punctuated by spasms of all-hell-breaking-loose.
Alone among that generation of rock stars who emerged in the early 1980s, Cave has continued to produce work of sustained variety and brilliance. This was showcased in a setlist that was built around the band’s 15th studio album, the desolate, atmospheric Push the Sky Away, but which managed to be crowd-pleasingly career-spanning at the same time.
Of the new material, ‘Jubilee Street’ stood out as a masterclass in tension-building, and certain classics have undoubtedly improved with age: ‘Tupelo’, a song of the Deep South ravaged by the elements, was written in the mid-Eighties but sounded more convincing somehow from a man in his mid-50s.
Cave does not embrace middle age unequivocally, though. He may have shrugged off a heroin habit decades ago, and long been settled on the south coast with his wife and twin boys, but he raises hell with as much conviction and panache as ever.