Kerrang! Astoria show review, October 1998

Mark Lanegan

The Astoria, London

Friday October 16th

'The Voice Of The Screaming Trees', it says on the posters. This is important. Not only because the Trees remain the finest band to have been herded beneath the grunge umbrella, but also because Mark Lanegan's vocals are their most distinctive instrument. Tonight, Lanegan is playing his first UK solo show, backed by a band which includes erstwhile Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd and ex-Dinosaur Jr man Mike Johnson on guitar. Lanegan has recorded three fine solo albums, and he's here to play the songs from those LP's, no matter how many times people shout out for Screaming Trees standards.

His songs are sedate, melancholy pieces which move from dustbowl country to hallucinogenic ballads. He sets the tone from the off: shuffling onstage lit in sombre blue, while his band unravel the woozy 'Hotel' like a shroud. This is how we proceed for much of the next hour. Lanegan doesn't speak between songs and even Shepherd seems as if he's been slipped several sleeping pills. The effect is mesmerising, as one dark and desolate song blurs into the next. Through it all, the voice is a thing of wonder - a black bruise of a sound steeped in pain, bitterness and regret, it cracks at the edges like a broken heart.

This long, slow paced section of the show makes the final third all the more affecting. With the epic 'Borracho', the disconnected surf rock of 'Hospital Roll Call' and the psychedelic shifts of 'Because Of This', they sound as vast and strange as Led Zeppelin on an acid trip.

For an encore, Lanegan relents and plays 'Sworn And Broken', then his own 'Carnival'. "Thankyou," he mutters as the last notes of the latter fade away. It was a pleasure.

Paul Rees (Kerrang!)

Rating : 4/5

High Point : The spell binding 'Borracho'.

Low Point : Twats shouting out for Screaming Trees songs

Best Onstage Quote : "I feel like a dirty old man standing up here"

Verdict : Sweet Oblivion