Mark Lanegan: The Sugar Club, Dublin – live review
It’s only a couple of months since Lanegan’s last appearance in Dublin, although the setting and the show are quite different. A sunny afternoon festival appearance and a dark cabaret club setting, to know Lanegan’s music is to understand where he is more at home.
It’s been a busy year for dark Mark, a collaboration with UK acoustic blues guitarist Duke Garwood, a guest spot on the new Queens of the Stone Age album, collaborating with Moby on the Lonely Night and in September an album inspired by the sixties orchestrated crooner pop of Sinatra and Andy Williams. Tonight he demonstrates to a Dublin crowd why that idiosyncratic baritone is always in demand.
Support slots are taken by members of Lanegan’s touring band. Guitar player Lyenn plays a short emotive set with a climatic end. His Yorkesque screaming finale unsettles and instils a need for further investigation, if the preciousness of the start of the set did not.
Like Mark, Duke Garwood is a man of few words,he mumbles through intros, and uncomfortably accepts applause when songs end. His self conscious in between song banter is in stark contrast to his bewitching execution. His invigorating mastery of guitar is hypnotic, plucking the strings in loose claw type gestures, creating sonicscapes that betray the solo nature of the performance. Technically flawless, he manoeuvres effortlessly through multiple styles and speeds through numbers, managing to squeeze several tunes into his set. His voice is not unlike Lanegan’s, but more of a murmur and with English intonation. He shares that brooding mournfulness, but it’s looser, and lighter. The crowd are attentive and it’s clear he’s won new fans.
Both Men return to the stage with three others to make up the remainder of Lanegan’s band, Jonas Pap on cello and Sietse van Gorkom on violin, and other guitarist Jeff Fielder complete the five. The crowd erupt as Lanegan appears, grasping, and leaning into the mike-he remains in this position for the duration. Garwood is less of a band member, and more an on stage conspirator. Five numbers from their recent album open the set and Garwood’s stamp is firmly on the show, playing guitar, alto clarinet and adding backing vocals. They open with Black Pudding’s elegiac and haunting War Memorial, an excellent example of the success of their latest musical venture. The audience are completely engrossed, the bar, empty.
The other five numbers come in quick succession, Mescalito, Cold Molly, Driver and Pentecostal, differing slightly from the album due to the benefit of added band members. Every word, and subtle instrumentation resonates. Despite the almost segmented nature of the gig, the Black Pudding material fits seamlessly alongside Lanegan’s own material. Unfamiliarity with the material is evident with the fervid reaction to breakthrough album Bubblegum’s When Your Number Isn’t Up. The rendition of the traditional Christmas song The Cherry Tree Carol sounds cinematic, it’s understandable why his music is utilised so much in film. This year sees the release of a double disc anthology of Lanegan’s solo career; he cringed at the thoughts of his first two albums being included, but is satisfied with inclusion of those that came after. The band bring something new to One Way Street from fifth album Field Songs – it’s sparse and atmospheric in comparison to the recorded version.
Lanegan is a captivating performer, and has the ability to immediately immerse you into his world, commanding undivided attention, although not of the girl sacrilegiously shuffling through Halloween photos on her IPhone, that bane of the contemporary gig attendee. Everything falls away, and you’re there, mesmerised and lost, hanging on every note and word. With the opening bars of Gravedigger’s Song, as Lanegan sings “With piranha teeth I been dreaming of you…” his effect on the crowd is almost shamanic as people expressively shake heads and bodies in time with music and words. The enthusiasm for The Damned inspired Phantasmagoria Blues matches Graveyard, the whispered lyrics from the audience a clear indication of the love for last year’s Blues Funeral. The band and Lanegan are impeccable throughout, even without the amplification we are accustomed to; this remains a heavy, dark, and foreboding affair.
Pretty Colors, made famous by Sinatra, marks the beginning of the Imitation set. Lanegan re imagines familiar material from his parent’s record collection, highlighting the ambiguous mood and mystery inherent in some of the best known pop songs of the sixties, a depth that’s lost with over familiarity. Imitations is the manifestation of a long held desire to do an album of these songs, and he’s having fun. It’s evident in his face, even managing a smile for the audience as a girl proclaims her love. Characteristically he is quiet between numbers but offers genuine thanks when the material is well received. The considered guitar notes of Mac the Knife are greeted with knowing enthusiasm, and Lanegan expertly sways his way through the well-known Brecht and Weill’ penned number made famous by Bobby Darin. With minimal accompaniment, Lanegan’s bluesy reading is right on the money and he convincingly updates the well-worn number. This isn’t alternative singer does karaoke, he embodies the material as if it was his own on these heartfelt elevated versions. His collaboration with Isobell Campbell has often drawn comparisons to Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, and tonight his cathartic version of Nancy’s You Only Live Twice manages to sound both melancholic and redemptive. The nightclub cabaret setting of the Sugar Club adds ambiance, the thick red curtains as a backdrop with a red wash across the band make you feel like you’ve left reality behind and are listening to the lounge band in a David Lynch film. The surreality continues as the Imitation set finishes with a pitch perfect Solitaire, Lanegan crooning on a careful rendition of the Andy Williams number further exemplifies the love he has for the easy listening music of his youth.
A tribute to Lou Reed comes in the shape of the recently deceased’s Satellite of Love. Subtle strings, gentle bass, along with guitar meanderings and studied backing vocals make for a fitting eulogy. The performance is rehearsed to perfection; Lanegan embodying the covered material as if it was his own. The introduction to the band is a little rushed; lingering a little longer on individual members is deserved considering the wealth of their contribution. Hit the City b-side Mirrored reminds of how wonderfully prolific Lanegan is and “Twilight Falls Again” on Bubblegum’s One Hundred Days. Before Imitations was covers album I’ll Take Care of You and that’s revisited briefly with the soulful On Jesus Program which brings the set to a spirited close.
Lanegan doesn’t delay returning to the stage for an encore, accompanied by Fielder alone, the rest of the band do not appear again. His voice has matured into a seasoned baritone, and he breathes an authentic quality into all that he sings, demonstrated on chilling highlight Bombed, losing non of it’s impact minus Wendy Rae Fowler’s ethereal addition. However, he can still tackle the more rockier vocal of old as demonstrated on the final number of the night. The hairs on the back of the neck shoot up as Fielder’s virtuoso playing leads us enthusiastically into the opening bars of Screaming Trees Halo of Ashes, the guitar ruminating through the venue has the audience in awe. Such is the appreciation for Fielders playing, Lanegan temporarily removes himself from his spot in front of the mic, staying seated yet animatedly acknowledging the invigorating guitar work. Mark returns for the final lines and the song reaches a rousing blissful crescendo, the crowd are ecstatic, it’s an astonishing close to a fantastic performance.
Initially conceived as stripped down acoustic tour in support of Imitations, the end product is so much more. With Lanegan you get his soul laid bare. Poised, pouring passion into his delivery and leaning against the mic, the onus is on the song, and for an emotive soulful interpretation of song he is unrivalled. With an added string section for these gigs, this is Lanegan as you’ve never seen him before. The result is one of the live highlights of the year, beg, steal or borrow, but don’t miss this tour.
Upcoming Tour Dates:
Nov 15 Alhambra, Paris, France
Nov 16 Kaufleuten, Zurich, Switzerland
Nov 17 THEATRE DE L’OCTOGONE, Pully, Switzerland
Nov 18 Teatro Duse, Bologna, Italy
Nov 19 Teatro Corso, Venice, Italy
Nov 21 La Paloma, Nimes, France
Nov 24 Teatro Niemeyer, Aviles, Spain
Nov 25 Teatro Barts, Barcelona, Spain
Nov 26 Teatro Nuevo, Apolo Madrid, Spain
Nov 28 Le Guess Who Festival, Utrecht, Netherlands
Nov 29 Islington Assembly Hall, London, UK
Nov 30 Tónleikar, Reykjavik, Iceland
Dec 01 Aukatónleikar, Reykjavik, Iceland