One word immediately springs to mind battling through the crush of bodies towards the stage tonight: oversold. The Trades Club is heaving to capacity on this Saturday night of the Heavenly Records weekend and the suspicion is that the huge demand for entrance has somehow overwhelmed the usually strict, but fair, security measures. I mark out the nearest exit which happens to be the stage entrance: In case of emergency, push roadie hard and run.
The tickets sold out for this event within hours of issue and it’s not difficult to figure out why. Experiencing Mark Lanegan and his band performing live in such intimate surroundings is a rare and therefore precious opportunity for those who appreciate the finer quality of his darkly-but-beautifully honed audio arts.
An unassuming Lanegan takes to a gloomy red-lit stage alongside guitarist Jeff Fielder without fanfare, but to a palpable audience buzz. They perform the first five numbers with a simple guitar/vocal combination, emphasizing the strong blues-influenced backbone that’s underscored his musical journey to date. Starting up with a stripped-back
When Your Number Isn't Up' from the <em>Bubblegum </em>album, they sweep seamlessly intoJudgement Time’ from the recent Phantom Radio.
Lanegan clutches the mike, all tattooed knuckles and gaunt, angular visage, rocking almost imperceptibly, eyes closed, lost to the music. His ragged husky baritone has a visceral quality that has deepened over the years, becoming oddly reminiscent of a time when war and whisky were inevitable companions. It’s a scarred and battle-worn evocation, as raw and exquisitely executed live as it is on recordings. When a couple of cock-wombles interrupt the hushed rapture by talking loudly mid-song – sacrilege! – they are told to shut the fuck up by other audience members in no uncertain terms and I almost expect a lynching to commence.
With a missing, wounded bass-player left behind a few cities back, initially only Aldo Struyf and Jean-Philippe De Gheest join Lanegan and Fielder to add in their expertise on keyboards/electronics and drums respectively on the slowly building `No Bells On Sunday’. As with his voice, Lanegan’s songwriting bears a rich patina of experience that cannot be faked, laden with a bitter-sweet and heart-wrenching weariness. Whereas that might be too heavy a load over an entire set, combining it with a more up-tempo arrangement both lightens and adds colour to the proceedings, lifting up both the sound and spirit, helped out with Zander Schloss guesting some bass where most-needed.
This recipe of splicing the introspective song-smith with electro-beat has been used previously with some notable success by bands like Everything But the Girl, but it’s on
Floor of the Ocean' where <em>Phantom Radio</em> really shows a debt to the innovative influence of New Order, particularly via its distinctiveHooky’-bass-line. Live, it also seems to take on a distinctly harder and raw edginess, that I prefer to the smoother mix of the album recording.
A long set allows a good sampling from across his solo and collaborative discography and although there’s no Screaming Trees tracks included, it’s a good wide-ranging selection. Initially finishing on
Death Trip to Tulsa' the rapturous audience shows its heartfelt appreciation and we are treated to two encores, starting withRevival’ and ending on
Killing Time' with Duke Garfield contributing some outstanding fretwork to the haunting Western-thematic ofI am the Wolf’ in-between.
Lanegan seems genuinely, modestly taken aback by the reception when he thanks us. Carved from an era of rock music that broke new ground, but also saw its share of casualties, the experience of Lanegan live accentuates that he’s more than a dogged survivor, he’s a pioneering spirit cutting his own swathe in his own inimitable way. He is the wolf.
Photos: Martin van der Grinten