with Johnny Cash
More than five years after The Winding Sheet was released, Mark Lanegan had very seldom - if ever - performed his solo material in concert. So when it was announced that he would be opening for Johnny Cash (some time after tickets for the show had gone on sale), I immediately dropped what I was doing and rushed out to buy a ticket.
The crowd at the theatre was a weird mix of Screaming Trees fans, big-hatted shit kickers, older folks, and just about every prominent Seattle musician. As people milled about in the lobby and talked, there was a definite sense of anticipation.
I took my seat, but found it hard to sit still - I had been waiting for this since 1990, the time had finally come, and I wasn't really sure what to expect. Any uneasiness quickly went away when Mark took the stage - backed by Mike Johnson and J Mascis (acoustic guitar), Barrett Martin (upright bass), Dave Krueger (violin), and Dan Peters (drums) - and launched into Carnival. Mark and the band continued with (in no particular order) Mockingbirds, Undertow, Ugly Sunday, The Winding Sheet, House A Home, and She's Not For You. Also included was a song that isn't on any of Mark's recordings that I know of; I have no idea what it might have been, but I remember thinking that it sounded like something that he might have found on an old blues or folk record. The set closed with an intense version of Borracho.
Mark looked healthy and sounded very strong. It was refreshing to hear him in an acoustic performance; for once he didn't have to strain to be heard, and the full, stunning power of his voice came through. The crowd as a whole was mostly appreciative, and Mark's fans were genuinely grateful for the opportunity to see him perform. At one point early in the set, a young woman approached the stage and handed him a bouquet of flowers.
Unfortunately, a few loudmouths just didn't get it. But Mark silenced them when he looked in their general direction and barked, "I only do this about once every five years, so why don't you shut the fuck up or go outside."
Johnny Cash followed with an energetic set that included many old favorites and some newer stuff. His singing was strong and his band - some of whom had been playing with him for more than 30 years - sounded very tight. Cash is an amazing entertainer and one of the true legends of American music, and I'm glad I had a chance to see him. But I have to agree with the columnist who wrote in The Stranger that on that night, it was really Mark's show that Cash closed, rather than Cash's show that Mark opened.
with Johnny Cash
1. The River Rise
CMJ Music Festival
So, my first thought was - isnt it very strange that Mark Lanegan is playing a solo show at all? Then my next thought was, who cares, as long as I get to go. Turns out I was right; it was strange, but who cares - I got to go!
The part of the theatre the show was in was really small, and nearly empty at first. The stage was only about 2 feet high, and you could walk right up to it. People were wandering in and out for most of the opening bands, but there was a group of people sitting on the floor in front of the stage to watch. As they started to set up for the band right before Lanegan, it started to fill in a little, so I moved to sit up front and secure a spot. Good move. By the time Damien Jurado had finished (and he wasnt half bad), the place had filled in, and everyone was standing up.
While the equipment was being set up, I noticed some music stands being brought in, which probably should have clued me in. By that time, though, Mark had appeared by the side of the stage, so I was busy watching him talk to someone. The reason this was so fascinating was because of the number of times he smiled and laughed - which I took as a good sign. When he walked on to the stage everyone started clapping, which hadnt happened with any of the previous bands. Most of them were there to see him, as I had suspected.
He started out with Mockingbirds. Of course if sounded great, but Im not going to keep mentioning that over and over! Right after the song was over, he said This is the first time we played together, rehearsed, anything. You can count the fuck-ups, therell be a quiz at the end of the night. He seemed to be in a good mood when he said it, but it reminded me about the music stands....
Ugly Sunday was next, after which one of the band members asked for more of something in the moniters. Mark took that opportunity to say yeah, and you can bring that bright light way down, if you know what I mean. There was one light shining right across his face, but the thing that struck me was the fact that dead center and a couple rows back, some guy was taking picture after picture with a huge flash. Even thought his eyes were closed as he sang, he flinched visably every time that stupid flash went off. The guy never did take the hint.
He also sang The River Rise, and House a Home, and sometime in there the one in every crowd reared its ugly head. This guy was muttering to his friend between songs, and I distinctly heard the words fucking drunk. So did Lanegan. He just sort of turned his head, and said thats recovering drunk, to you. He didnt get nasty, or even look that upset. The guy tried a couple more times, but he was ignored after that.
Then came the start of Undertow, which was the beginning of the end. The band COULD NOT get it right. But more on that in a minute... They tried twice, while Mark just stood with his head cocked, listening for something he could work with. He even went back and talked to them once, but it didnt help. He kinda smiled, said thank you, goodnight - but he still stayed while they tried it one last time. It wasnt any better, so he left. He walked off - he didnt storm away or say any more.
The crowd must have understood, because no one said a word. Well, except the rude guy, whose incoherent yelling started a fight with one of the musicians and beer bottles began flying through the air. That ended with no major damage done, and so deserves no more attention. I hung around for a while, and there were still two more bands to play, but eventually I wandered out. I certainly hope he didnt end up going back on, but since they had already taken the equipment down, I figured he wouldnt.
As I later learned, most of the band did know the songs, and had had a limited amount of time to practice together. It was just the accoustic guitar player who hadn't made the practices, and the problem with Undertow was that he was trying to go right into Where Did You Sleep Last Night, which threw off all the others. They did have the sheet music on stage because of the short notice for the show, but really weren't badly prepared for the most part. This helps explain why Mark didn't seem too upset, it was just one of those things that can happen. The band members were: Drums - Garret Shavlik, Bass - Steve Tallent, Electric Guitar - Paul 'Solger' Dana. The wayward accoustic guitar player was Rob Roth.
After the things Ive seen in print about him, I was actually impressed with the amount of humor and restraint Mark displayed throughout the whole string of events. I was standing 2 feet away from him as he did four songs I never thought Id get to hear live, and somehow I was happy enough with that. Did I ever mention how incredibly great he sounded for those songs? Well, he sounded even better than how I could describe it anyhow.
(thanks to Paul Solger for the information on the band and its members)