Dotmusic December 2003 (

Gig played on Fri 28 Nov 2003 Venue : Mean Fiddler, London
byJohn Mulvey

He's almost certainly seen unhealthier days, but Mark Lanegan still looks like an elegant cadaver as he leans on his microphone stand and surveys his fans. For some time now, they've had to put up with only fleeting glimpses of this remarkable singer: a handful of songs in each Queens Of The Stone Age set, then off into the night.

For the first time in two years, though, the Queens have stopped for a breather of sorts, leaving Josh Homme to promote the Desert Sessions and The Eagles Of Death Metal, and Nick Oliveri to go off on tour with Mondo Generator. It's also allowed Mark Lanegan to fetch up here with a clutch of new songs and a new band - featuring, inevitably, yet another Queen in guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen - to play them.

Lanegan, of course, has one of rock's inarguably great voices: a harrowing, reverberating deathbed baritone that betrays the countless iniquities its owner has practiced over the years. Now reputedly clean of the addiction which dogged him for so long - and possibly prevented his original band, the Screaming Trees, becoming the superstars they should have been - Lanegan's stagecraft and music have changed little.

Essentially, he glares, smokes, grimaces when he goes for a high note, and sings a lot of rueful songs about drugs and mortality. It's a strangely compelling spectacle, and one in which minuscule variations - like a briefly raised eyebrow during one of Van Leeuwen's solos - take on profound significance.

His songs, too, remain consistently gripping. 1990's 'Mockingbirds' is stripped back to an ominously pretty acoustic sketch, with Lanegan noting, "You can't kill what's already dead." The new 'Methamphetamine Blues' (from the 'Here Comes That Weird Chill' mini-album) adds a few industrial clanks, but the formula is fairly constant: juddering, menacing ragas; psychedelic blues that flit between personal regret and moral unrepentance; desert outlaw songs. At times, as on his gruffly tender version of Brook Benton's 'I'll Take Care Of You', Lanegan proves he's a marvellous soul crooner.

It's as a rock singer, however, that Lanegan made his reputation, and it's the most turbulent songs that work best here tonight. The opening 'Borracho' is probably the finest of the lot, a martial blues that gradually kicks up a fierce duststorm, with Van Leeuwen and fellow guitarist Brett Netson (from Built To Spill) trading solos and Lanegan apologising for his misdemeanours to no-one but himself. He's a master of male angst, who exposes his weaknesses in a heroically unmelodramatic way and without any need for forgiveness or pity. Maybe, if we're lucky, Josh Homme will let him out on his own a little more frequently next year.
John Mulvey