Guy Peters live review from Brussels (www.guypetersreviews.com/livelanegan.htm), December 2003
Live Review Mark Lanegan Band (USA)
Set List (nearly complete, though the order’s probably not correct – apart from the encores): Borracho / Message to Mine / One Way Street / Don’t Forget Me / No Easy Action / Miracle / Creeping Coastline of Lights / Death Don’t Have No Mercy / Skeletal History / On Jesus Program / Hospital Roll Call / I’ll Take Care of You / Methamphetamine Blues // 1st encore: Mockingbirds / River Rise / Clear Spot // 2nd encore: Kimiko’s Dream House / Pill Hill Serenade
Lanegan’s tenure with the Queens of the Stone Age-circus obviously didn’t do him any harm: at the end of 2001 he played at the tiny, but cosy AB Club, whereas this time around he performed in a venue about twice as big. The new album, Bubblegum, will be out early 2004, but there already were a teaser EP (Here Comes That Weird Chill – Methamphetamine Blues, Extras & Oddities) and a few spotlight-stealing performances on Songs for the Deaf to attract a new audience. While the latest release seems to suggest a more experimental approach, more atonal/dissonant, diverse and harder-rocking than on previous albums, it became clear very soon that people like Lanegan don’t switch styles that easily, despite some surprising touches. After support act Enemy finished their ultra-short set (five songs?) of muscular power trio-rock, the tension kept rising until the Mark Lanegan Band (yes, not just “Mark Lanegan & some friends” or anything like that) entered the purple-lit stage and kicked things off with the grainy desert rock of “Borracho” that promised we weren’t just gonna get some quiet folksy night. Lanegan’s voice sounded extremely powerful, while the guitar-tandem of Troy Van Leeuwen (A Perfect Circle, Queens of the Stone Age) and Brett Netson (Built to Spill, etc) seemed a perfect choice. Backed by an impressive band (with Millionaire-member Aldo Struyf – a Belgian! – on synths), Lanegan explored the sun-soaked territory somewhere in between Neil Young’s monolithic rock, the creepy Death Valley D.T.’s of Thin White Rope and the immediately recognisable QOTSA-family sound.
The next songs, however, ensured we’d get some sonic variety as well, as the recent “Message to Mine” harkens back to the anthemic Screaming Trees of “All I Know,” while “One Way Street,” the magnificent opening song of Field Songs was treated in a gentler, soulful fashion. Throughout the gig, the emphasis would primarily remain on the last two albums, basically collections of gloomy late night-affairs. “Creeping Coastline of Lights,” “Don’t Forget Me” and “I’ll Take Care of You” were respectfully treated, while “On Jesus’ Program” was rendered with a straightforward mastodon rhythm, while Lanegan delivered an astonishing performance. Even though the quieter songs might appeal to those looking for a dose of Tindersticks-moodiness, the band sometimes shifted to a higher gear: the no nonsense-version of “No Easy Action” was already impressive, but a few surprises came in the guise of a few new songs: “Methamphetamine Blues” closed the set on a high note, with a droning take on QOTSA’s bulldozer-rock, but a new slab called “Skeletal History” even added another extra dimension to it. Dark, unsettling, starting off with a disjointed rhythm and a feverish atmosphere, but soon settling for this huge groove, it’s a showcase for Lanegan’s sung/spoken vocals and sinister lyrics and a song that ran the chills up and down my spine. Threatening psycho-blues at its best.
Mr. Gravel Voice was in a good mood throughout the entire concert (proof: he repeatedly mumbled a tombstone-styled “thanks a lot”), so it was a sure thing there’d be an encore, and indeed, Van Leeuwen and Lanegan returned with a bare-boned acoustic take on “Mockingbirds” from the man’s 1990 debut album. It was followed by “River Rise” during which they were joined again by the rest of the band, and a surprising cover version of Beefheart’s “Clear Spot,” one that actually sounded even more convincing than on the latest EP. More straightforward than the original by Beefheart, it nonetheless was a disjointed highlight of the show. Not settling for a small triumph, there came another encore with two gentler tracks from Field Songs: “Pill Hill Serenade” and “Kimiko’s Dream House,” after which Lanegan paid his dues to his spiritual brother, the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce (who gave him the song and told him top “finish the words”). While Lanegan has always been involved in bands that boasted excellent musicians, he’s often considered “the singer of…,” but in the meantime he’s already created a striking body of work that suggests it might be as timeless as the man’s recurring themes, and with a voice like that - one that can switch from a awaken-the-dead-growl to a deep, soulful whisper - Lanegan’s future as a unique musician is guaranteed. Keep ‘em coming.