Above all else, Cave has a solid, classy reputation. Critically acclaimed, he's never been mainstream or populist in the same way as many of his past collaborators, but the passion he inspires in his fan base reflects his own creative potency. If nothing else, he's an artist of quality.
His songs are as solid as his reputation. They sound like they were built, rather than written. His arrangements go well beyond typical rock songs, both in terms of structure and instrumentation. With two drummers and a variety of percussion in his band, clearly Cave was going for an almost literal wall of sound.
Multi-faceted and multi-talented, the singer's career has been constantly evolving and shifting. Whether working on other people's songs, writing his own probing, intellectual material, to pursuing a near-obsessive interest in death on the popular Murder Ballads album (including a duet with fellow antipodean, Kylie Minogue), he never stops changing. From his early, screaming, thrashy years with The Birthday Party to his occasionally scaled back approach with his three piece Grinderman band, Cave puts an unmistakable, indelible stamp on everything he undertakes.
Last night's performance at The Corn Exchange was visceral. Throbbing and bassy, but with strong mids and soaring highs, it featured one of the best sound mixes of any gig in any venue in Edinburgh in the last few years. The volume levels often threatened to overpower, but never did.
An object lesson in balance, every instrument, and especially Cave's unique, brooding voice remained crystal clear throughout. Inevitably, the odd bit of feedback howled, but in this setting, it only added to the live feel. The show, already rich with his primal blues and rock constructions, actually benefited as the microphone screeching felt more like a character from one of his lyrics, lurking ominously offstage.
Newer songs like Dig, Lazarus, and Moon Land sat easily alongside older "Cave classics", as he described them self-mockingly. Songs like Red Right Hand, Tupelo and the mighty, crowd-pleasing final encore of Stagger Lee from Murder Ballads. The audience were locked in, hypnotised by the singer as his baritone resonantly inhabited the songs, or as he joked in between numbers.
Cave's songs have a cinematic feel to them. Full of allusion and story, they're almost more powerful because of what's left out as what's included. Dripping with atmosphere, if they were films, they would be deep, practically impenetrable black and white art-house affairs. If they were horror movies, the monster would only ever be glimpsed in shadow – never seen, and therefore all the more terrifying.
Cave delivered a pounding, sweaty and satisfying performance, backed by a tank of a band. If he were playing again next week, the entire audience would likely have tickets booked already.