He has jumped into the crowd and quite literally bounced off the walls of the State Theatre with his visceral rock band, the Bad Seeds. He has also put on loud, menacing shows at nearby First Avenue with his other groups, the Birthday Party and Grinderman.
So after all those noisy and chaotic prior showings, it actually felt kind of wild and dangerous for Nick Cave to put on the type of show he did for his return to the State on Monday night: seated, intimate, at times elegant, often pin-drop quiet.
The Australian post-punk/alt-rock hero played to a sold-out Twin Cities crowd this time around with only one musician by his side: bassist Colin Greenwood, not seen in town since his regular band Radiohead last played the same theater in 1997.
Cave sat at a grand piano for the entire two-hour set, his jet-black hair matching the piano's lacquer, and his baritone voice sounding as intense and booming as ever. However, there was a gentler and sometimes even lighthearted approach to the performance, which featured 25 songs from throughout his 45-plus-year career.
After opening with the dirge-like 2016 ballad "Girl in Amber," Cave explained that he intended to "get to the heart of the songs and get lost in them" in the stripped-down format. Humorously, though, he confessed to being at a loss when asked what the second song is about, the twisted Southern Gothic rambler "Higgs Boson Blues."
"I don't know, but it's not very good, whatever it is," he cracked.
The first half of the set was heavy with recent material — also "not very good" in the sense that Cave went through a lot of personal turmoil while creating a lot of it.
In "I Need You," a song issued in the wake of his teenage son's accidental death, he repeated the refrain, "Just breathe, just breathe," so many times it sounded like a skipping record. Then in "Waiting for You," he desperately bellowed, "Sometimes a little bit of faith can go a long, long way."
Stark, stirring moments like those were broken up with funny and sometimes even sweet between-song banter, like when he explained why the oldie "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry," meant a lot to him.
"It's a dark song, but it used to get my kid to sleep," he said. "I hope it doesn't have the same effect on you."
Cave did turn on the dark-lord persona for just a few seconds when a woman in the crowd wished him happy birthday; even though he actually turned 66 nine days earlier.
"It's not my [expletive] birthday," he flatly scolded her. "One day is hard enough."
Greenwood played a subtle role in the set, adding a darker underbelly to some songs and a melodic hum to others. He did noticeably punch up "Jubilee Street," though, and even threw in a lead-guitar-like solo in a cover of T. Rex's "Cosmic Dancer" during the encore.
"Jubilee Street" was one of a handful of tunes that somehow sounded more maniacal and strung-out in the rawer, mellower form than on the noisier records. More often, though, Cave's piano-man take on older songs actually made them sound a little more playful and perky, including the Grinderman song "Palaces of Montezuma" and the show's nearest thing to a swooning ballad, "Into My Arms."
Even the wicked executioner epic "The Mercy Seat" had a mischievous tone to it on Monday. Mind you, there's no light way of playing "The Mercy Seat," but it turns out there is at least a slightly lighter way for Nick Cave to go about his dark business.