Copyright 1998 Times Newspapers Limited

The Times (London)

October 21, 1998, Wednesday

Black and Blues by Ann Scanlon

Mark Lanegan. Astoria, WC2

MARK LANEGAN is best-known as the deep, whiskey-and -nicotine-fuelled voice that fronts Screaming Trees. Back in 1989, however, Lanegan recorded his first solo album, The Winding Sheet, which was dark and blues-stained and featured contributions from Lanegan's friends Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain, who played in the then little-known Nirvana. Four years later, Cobain recorded one of the songs that Lanegan had sung on that album - a cover of Leadbelly's Where Did You Sleep Last Night? - as the final track in Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York session. A few months later, Cobain was dead and that great blues track had become his swansong.

There are definite similarities between Lanegan and Cobain - two good friends who were based in Seattle and shared a mutual love of the blues. Both drawn to the dark side, yet ultimately seeking some kind of redemption through music. Both blessed with two of the rawest, most passionate voices of the 1990s.

Since The Winding Sheet, Lanegan has released two further solo albums, 1994's Whiskey for the Holy Ghost and the recent Scraps at Midnight.

However, last Friday's show at the Astoria was the first time he has played on his own in England, and consequently there was an almost reverential air of expectation before he took the stage.

Lanegan was backed by a four-piece band, including his long-time musical collaborator Mike Johnson and the former Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd. Opening with the world-weary blues of Ugly Sunday - one of the standout tracks from The Winding Sheet - they followed with songs from all three albums. Veering from the gentle melody of The River Rise to the Old Testament-style fear and loathing of Because of This, Lanegan sounded more like Leonard Cohen than part of any alternative scene.

The general atmosphere seemed deliberately low-key, with a minimal light show, and throughout it all Lanegan stood still and uttered just a couple of thank you's and the rather bizarre comment: "I don't know why, but I feel like a dirty old man up here." Nevertheless, he kept the audience's attention completely, right through to the uplifting Carnival that closed the second encore. A rare outing from a great voice.