dB Magazine Review of Mark Lanegan 20-Oct-04 show from the #344 Issue (Nov 10 - 16)

Mark Lanegan Band Corner Hotel (Melbourne), Wed 20 Oct

Yet again Adelaide misses out. Sigh. Let's hope that next time (if there IS a next time - by all accounts he doesn't like flying) Mr. Lanegan can grace us with a local gig. So I'm telling you about what you missed; nd without a doubt, you missed something.

Mark Lanegan has been quietly releasing solo records for fifteen years, documenting a quite different side to his musical persona than the one revealed fronting Seattle stalwarts Screaming Trees and the now-imploded Queens Of The Stone Age. Working with carefully chosen friends, his solo work has explored the open roads and small towns of the American midwest, twisting in the swampy gaps between country and blues, but always showcasing the marvellous, whisky and cigarette-stained instrument that is his voice. Most recently, freed from his commitments to other projects, Lanegan has assembled a more permanent band around him, and felt freer to explore a range of noisier styles again, dynamics that are prevalent on his new album, the incongruously named 'Bubblegum.'

It was probably the impact of 'Bubblegum', as well as his association with QOTSA, that filled the Corner Hotel for the second of his two Melbourne gigs. Wearing black, staring mainly at the floor or the ceiling and holding the mike stand like a crutch, it was clear that Lanegan wasn't feeling chatty (in fact he said about three words all night). He was going to let his steel larynx do the talking.

And of course his band is a big part of that talking too. With guitars from Michael Barragan and Brett Nelson, bass from Eddie Nappi and Norm Block on drums, tonight they never sounded anything less than super-tight. Oh, and did I mentioned that they rocked? Special mention should go to the extravagantly tattooed Shelly Bryant, who supplied the female vocals that provide such a vital counterpoint to Lanegan's more reflective moments. Shelly had a lovely voice, so it was a shame I could rarely hear her (more about that later).

The set list, perhaps inevitably, was heavily skewed towards material from 'Bubblegum', with storming versions of Skeletal History, Driving Death Valley Blues, and (during the single encore) Methamphetamine Blues. It was during these moments, when Lanegan's voice threatened to get buried in the mix, that he proved he could move to a whole new level of vocal power. Impressive stuff.

There were only a few numbers from his earlier (and sonically quite different) albums peppered through the ninety minute set. Pendulum, from 1994s 'Whisky For The Holy Ghost', and On Jesus' Program from his 1999 covers album 'I'll Take Care Of You' were two standouts. Alas, no Carnival or The Winding Sheet, but perhaps these are exactly the kind of tracks that would be better suited to a smaller, semi-acoustic space. I would have loved Lanegan and Bryant just a little further forward in the mix, but this didn't seem to worry most of the enthralled punters.

All in all it was pretty damn wonderful. As one Seattle veteran opined recently, Lanegan "sure can sing the shit out of a song." Amen to that.

Phil Paisley
Pic: Julie Richards