There have been a lot of Nick Caves over the years. He’s been the skinny Australian guy clowning around onstage with the chaotic-sounding Birthday Party; the junkie leader of the Bad Seeds, telling tales of the seedy underworld set to a tweaked version of American roots music; the singer of blood-and-guts murder ballads; the statesmanlike crafter of heartfelt love songs. There was some overlap here and there, but each persona represented a distinct phase of Cave’s career. If you’ve been following Cave for a long time, you might have dropped out for a few years if you didn’t like his new direction, only to return to that familiar baritone when it was singing a new style you really like.
In fact, it was a little too easy to drop out for a few years. Much as I love Cave’s heartfelt love songs, all those craftsmanlike albums started to sound the same after a while. But something interesting happened a couple of years ago when Cave put together a new band called Grinderman. The lineup was basically a shrunken version of the Bad Seeds, but the sound was raw and raucous — Cave’s lyrics reveled in their vulgarity. Everyone sounded as if he was having the time of his life. And the fun spilled over into this year’s Bad Seeds album, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
But this isn’t just one of those stories of an aging rocker rediscovering his old fire. What’s remarkable is that Cave seems to be synthesizing all the phases in his career into one new persona. He’s never been less than interesting, and now he’s more fascinating than ever.
NICK CAVE, 4th&B, Tuesday, September 16, 8 p.m. 619-231-4343. $32.50.