Mark Lanegan, Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall, June 14th
For his only UK date this year Mark Lanegan graces Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall with his presence as part of the 2014 edition of Meltdown festival, curated by musician and producer James Lavelle.
With not a word of presentation, the former Screaming Trees singer slowly walks up to the microphone, accompanied only by guitarist Jeff Fielder. Dressed – of course – entirely in black, with black rimmed glasses giving him an even greater air of intellectualism, Mark Lanegan looks as ruggedly handsome as ever. Throughout the evening he strictly keeps to himself, seldom leaving his place at the centre of the stage where he stands gripping the microphone stand with both hands. He makes next to no interaction with his audience, but then again Mark Lanegan isn’t exactly renowned for his friendliness.
His musical repertoire ranges from delicate (if one can use that word in relation to Mark Lanegan) and somewhat tender songs to the rough and gritty ones which seem to imply a lifetime of whiskey, sex and cigarettes (not to mention heavy drugs), all drawn together by his distinctive husky, weathered voice. Tonight’s set combines softer songs such as One Way Street, with heavy moments from Bubblegum and Blues Funeral, entwined with significant number of covers. For an unelaborate set-up comprising of simply his voice and Jeff Fielder’s compelling guitar playing, the performance presents a striking variety of textures and an astonishing dynamism in sound.
Highlights include the despairing-yet-sensuous Don’t Forget Me and The Gravedigger’s Song – without the heavy rolling of drums, it might not offer the full spectrum of sounds of the original album version, yet the upbeat rhythm of gritty guitar riffs still manage to create that seductive opposition of rougher chords and more ethereal crescendos between verses. While Fielder fully immerses himself in the music’s release of energy, Lanegan continues to stand composed in his place, gravely staring down at the floor.
Melancholia runs thick in the air throughout the set, with the delicate ring and sophisticated rhymes of Phantasmagoria Blues – its last chord like a long, deep sigh, and a cover of Soulsavers’ Can’t Catch the Train. Other reinterpretations include Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice and the iconic Mack the Knife, from his most recent cover album, Imitations – it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the high notes of finger-picked strings should work so elegantly with his impossibly deep baritone voice. I feel I can speak for most members of the female sex when I say that his is the sort of voice women dream to have whispered in their ear, his are the songs women wish their lovers would write about them. As if to certify this notion, comes the end of the song and a woman somewhere in the audience behind me lets out an awe-filled “lovely”.
A beautiful and lulling One Hundred Days, followed by On Jesus’ Program, brings the set to an end, as Lanegan leaves the stage with a murmured “thank you and goodnight”. When he returns for an encore, it’s Bombed he chooses to open with, and again that sensuous voice of his, barely more than a whisper, captivates the audience. The evening ends on the upbeat rhythm of Screaming Trees song Halo of Ashes. Starting with a build-up of guitar chords, Fielder then joins in on the chorus and ascends into a vibrant outburst with a mesmerising solo as Lanegan sits in a chair at the back of the stage. After the final verse they leave the stage once more and Mark Lanegan returns to the unknown shadows which he inhabits.