Manchester Academy 2
Mark 5th 2012
Live review from Nathan Mcilroy- the lead singer from Manchester’s finest young band, Frazer King
I first saw Mark Lanegan with Queens of the Stone Age on the Rated R tour over ten years ago in Manchester. Me and a few friends were hanging around the back of Academy 1 when a looming giant with an American accent strolled over and asked us how we were. He looked overjoyed that we existed but we didn’t have a clue who he was. He turned out to be Mark Lanegan. We realised this, somewhere between ”ËWalkin’ on the Sidewalks’ and entering puberty, whilst being mauled around a mosh pit by Kyuss worshipping bikers. We were 13 year old, straggly little outcasts and he had talked to us like adults.
My friend had been reared on the music of the Screaming Trees by a young unambitious uncle with the best taste in music, comedy, literature and career choice. Upon realising our ignorance he quickly schooled us in the basics and we were set. Two years later we saw Lanegan solo, which was a far more reserved affair for our musical pallet but still alluring in the way that death is curious and drugs are moreish. Supporting him on that night were Masters of Reality, fronted by acclaimed producer Chris Goss and on this occasion backed by Nick Oliveri and Josh Holme which was as sure a sign as any of reciprocal respect amongst the Desert Session sect.
Before that gig I was enthralled by very heavy music, and little else that wasn’t heard dripping from the walls of Gilly’s Rockworld.
After witnessing that gig I opened my mind to blues, gospel and folk music as well as many other sounds which may have appeared to be orbiting space but still maintained roots, heart and soul. This included all that was loud, heavy and good.
Last night the gig was packed. People were spilling out of the same venue that was half full 8 years before. In the intervening years, Lanegan has gained exposure as a collaborator for hire, achieving much deserved success with Isobel Campbell. Their relationship bore three albums of maudlin duets that pay testament to Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s work together. Despite canvassing audiences with this and his many other guises (Soulsavers, Afghan Whigs, The Gutter Twins, QOTSA, Screaming Trees) last night felt like the 25 years of slogging it out on the road unloved and unappreciated were finally beginning to pay off with the recognition and appreciation of his solo work being evident from the enraptured response of the audience.
Despite the capacity crowd he looked as uncomfortable or cool as ever and a hushed reverie fell over the crowd whenever an awkward gap appeared between numbers and Lanegan would quickly eyeball the offending band member to get playing quick, which they did. He clasped his hands around the mic stand and didn’t let go throughout, rarely opening his eyes except to see what was next in the twenty plus set list.
He opened with Gravedigger Song which also starts his latest solo record Funeral Blues which he dipped into generously, performing 7 or 8 from the album barely a month after its UK release. Sonically, the song owes a lot to QOTSA and threatens to blow into something louder and more abrasive at any point but somehow remains simmering under the boil. This proved to be a statement of intent for the rest of the gig which teased the ears with a venom that worked around the body slowly.
Sleep with Me followed and any cocksureness and violence dissipated as Lanegan pleaded like a barfly returning home to find the locks changed only to howl through the letterbox ”ËI need someone, ah sleep with me’. Old favourite Hit the City made certain members of the audience twitch enough to look like they were dancing on strong tranquilizers and was followed immediately by Wedding Dress just to reassert how brilliant his 2004 album Bubblegum is in case we’d forgotten.
Somewhere during Resurrection Song from his prior LP, 2001’s Field Songs, Lanegan hits his stride and envelops the hall in gospel tinged abandon. His backing band are effortless and are not afraid to shadow his voice sparingly when needed which makes his performance all the more powerful.
Lanegan then goes through newer tracks that sound better to me live than on my first few listens to the LP at home (only just got the album). Stand out tracks were St. Louis Elegy and Bleeding Muddy Water, the first sounding like an Ennio Morricone composition and the second proving his voice has no worthwhile contemporary in modern music. Lyrically, Quiver Syndrome mixes the usual religious imagery with Ancient Greece and the tempo and energy of the song inject the room with an adrenalin shot to the heart. Other notable lines appear in another new offering Phantasmagoria Blues which is as ceepy and perverse of any Edgar Allen Poe verse, with the spirit of Jane brought to life by Lanegan’s voice from beyond the grave.
I have given to you Jane
A torn and tattered love
But do you hear the tolling bells
That ring down from above
One Hundred Days is best explained listening to or witnessing it yourself. It’s a song that can only be sung by a voice who has struggled with addiction and inertia in their lives and it is almost uncomfortable to witness. He ends the set in the same vein (not intended as a tasteless pun) with Fix which evokes both Don Van Vliet’s quieter moments and Layne Staley’s strained and pained vocals. It is a transfixing performance and as with some of the other songs it can’t be misconstrued as entertainment. It’s the sound of a man baring his soul and it’s almost voyeuristic watching him exorcise his demons on such numbers.
He leaves the stage to perform the rigmarole of walking back on again for a planned encore and blows me away with Bubblegum opener When Your Number Isn’t Up and One Way Street. He finishes the evening with Methamphetamine Blues which could be used for an anti-drugs campaign or a celebratory evening of getting bombed depending on which side of the nightmare you dwell on. ”ËRolling just to keep on rolling, because I don’t want to leave this heaven so soon”Â¦’
Downstairs by the merchandise stand there is a huge queue and I spot Mark Lanegan less than 5 minutes after being onstage signing autographs and posing for pictures. I have trawled through many accounts and articles of how morose, moody and difficult Lanegan can be and I believe that any person in their right mind would act this way when met with the imagination of a music journalist so I refrain from asking him if he remembers three scrawny kids from ten years ago. Judging by the uncontained adulation of the crowd waiting impatiently for a signature he means a lot of things to a lot of people and this will only intensify as his albums get the recognition they deserve. In years to come, Mark Lanegan will be realised as a treasure to worship whilst the detritus of the noughties music scene disappears into an unmarked grave to the sound of the Gravedigger Song.
Shovel down six feet
With a head heavy pain
The magnolia blooms so sweet
And it fades just the same
Sleep With Me
Hit The City
Grey Goes Black
St. Louis Elegy
Crawl Like A Dog
Bleeding Muddy Water
One Hundred Days
Creeping Coastline of Lights
Riot In My House
Ode To Sad Disco
Wish You Well
When Your Number Isn’t Up
One Way Street