It is 21:07 and the crowd is buzzing. Four musicians walk onto the stage and head to their instruments – a keyboard, a guitar, a bass and the drums. I wonder, for a second, whether Mark Lanegan has arrived, then look to the far left of the stage and see his unmistakable silhouette make its way to the microphone stand. I ask myself how any man could walk so charismatically but before I have time to ponder any further, the show is on.
With no need for introductions, pleasantries or any other stage-shenanigans, ‘The Gravedigger’s Song’, from his latest album, Blues Funeral, blasted through the speakers. The crowd was ready and so was I. I’ve known of Lanegan for a long time – his debut with the Screaming Trees, his extensive solo work, as well as his time with Queens of the Stone Age, Isobel Campbell and Greg Dulli – but I have never seen him perform live.
Dressed in black, Lanegan was as low-key as possible, yet his presence was striking. And his live vocal skills were passionate, genuine and flawless.
By the time the band played ‘Hit the City’, Lanegan’s magical duet with PJ Harvey from the 2004 album Bubblegum, the sold-out venue was bubbling. I had high hopes of hearing the song – one of my favourites – and everything was as it should be. Harvey’s haunting vocals were missing, but Lanegan’s singing did not disappoint. The band was tight and the sound quality great – no feedback or other distractions. Just when things couldn’t get any better, the familiar bass-riff of ‘Wedding Dress’ lifted the venue, and myself, to cloud nine.
Lanegan’s performance was a reminder that music is what really matters. The stage-lights remained uniformly pink and blue, the band didn’t have any fancy gimmicks and Lanegan barely moved from his original spot. It is a rare concept these days, relying on the music to do the entertaining, but any true Lanegan fan is bound to embrace his artistic approach and admire the purity behind his whiskey voice.
The show went on in a low-key fashion, the musicians playing and the crowd being led through various moods by Lanegan – from the dreamy, melancholy vibe of songs like ‘One Hundred Days’, to the full-blown rocking-style of ‘Quiver Syndrome’. As I looked around, it was a much more mature audience than I am used to, no teenagers in sight (a pleasant change) and no mosh-pit in front of the stage, even when the pace picked up.
The encore was as sudden as the start of the show. The band left and came back so fast, it was like they never left. Three more songs for an eager audience, ending with ‘Methamphetamine Blues’, with the lyrics “I don’t want to leave this heaven so soon” perfectly describing my mood. The band left the stage and announced that Lanegan would be signing CDs. A whiskey shot later, I left with my autographed copy of Blues Funeral in hand, and a cathartic smile on my face.