As Nick Cave and his fellow Grindermen opened with the blistering first track on their second album, “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man,” a couple holding hands plowed through Tuesday’s crowd at the Music Box. A conflict was evident: The woman wanted to dive into the morass; the man did too but not in the same brusque manner. They glared at each other as they broke hands forcibly enough to make everyone around them stand back.
The moment seemed cooked up from one of Grinderman’s vicious but empathetic tales about the endless power struggles between man and woman. If only one of them had been hanging onto a raggedy Bible or a vulture gun, the scene would’ve been complete. In Grinderman’s music, all kinds of wars are waged: between desire and need; middle-class security and existential angst; the man who gave you the plasma-screen TV to watch “Oprah” on and the psychosexual beast in your kitchenette that you’re not sure you should stab with a knife or simply surrender to.
In Grinderman (which generally bludgeons where Cave’s other current group, the Bad Seeds, likes to lacerate), the dark side always pulls hard, threatening to swallow the band, the listener and the song’s characters. But in Cave’s theatrics and vivid storytelling, he provides a surprisingly lucid beacon in the squall. Part Laurence Olivier in “King Lear,” part lunatic Dust Bowl-era evangelical preacher and all vulnerable, quivering ego, the only way Cave survives his own songs, it seems, is by taking the responsibility to narrate them.