Mark Lanegan At The Teragram Ballroom, Monday August 28th 2017
I don’t know where Mark Lanegan has been all my life, I should have listened to him earlier, but I actually was, without being fully aware of it. Sadly, I had never really listened to Screaming Trees, but he is featured on so many albums I am familiar with. From Queens of the Stone Age to the Twilight Singers, he is everywhere, and I even saw one of his performances with Greg Dulli when they played songs from their collaboration The Gutter Twins. Mark Lanegan has been orbiting around my world for a long time, I was just not paying attention, and this is a shame since he has his own universe, a dark, melancholic and melodious one, with a poetry living in a Nick Cave’s parallel world. When you start your set singing, ‘Your death’s head tattoo made me/Pray for the last one standing/Holding a loaded gun/I can see her there under the golden sun’, all the possibilities inside your head seem wide open, and it was about time for me to see Mark Lanegan in concert, during his Gargoyle Tour.
Before Lanegan, two solo artists played intense performances, first, Lyenn, a flemish singer-songwriter, with slow, desolated songs and an intense melancholic croon. He turned the atmosphere of the room completely down, with a you-could-have-heard-a-needle-drop type of performance. The crowd was very attentive, listening to his slowly-developing atmosphere-building songs, getting creepy at times, with vocals going from a whisper to wounded screams. I understand why a Lanegan crowd got captivated by his very emotional performance, and his last song was particularly staggering, haunted by a high-pitch scream to tear your mind apart.
Duke Garwood was another exercise in lo-fi and atmospheric slowness, but the feeling was quite different, his bluesy guitar was doing loops, while he was building a very intense and penetrable ambiance as if he had been a second Warren Ellis,…. did I get a strong Bad Seeds vibe during his set! Absolutely, the multi-instrumentalist musician is also a famous Lanegan collaborator, as he played guitar on ‘Blues Funeral’, but he has also participated to Savages’ ‘Silence Yourself’, among other things. His set was like walking aimlessly in a hot desert, where the sound of the instrument and the voice of the singer are perceived through layers of hot air, when the 100ºF temperature makes each one of your moves more difficult.
Mark Lanegan is not a very communicative performer, this is the least I can say, he also plays under a very dim light, and, most of the time, he holds his mic with his two hands masking his face, which made the task of the photographer in me quite challenging. But darkness is important in Lanegan’s context, gloominess is his sole territory and he haunts the stage like a mysterious shadow. However, the music is more though than sad, many songs actually rocked hard and tight, with heavenly vocal harmonies, as the darkness always came from his signature deep baritone that has been talked about numerous times.
This is why I should have listened to his music since I have been listening to music, he is like the universal missing link between many of my favorite acts, the somber atmospheric instrumentals with pinches of electronica soundscapes are as cinematic as a Bad Seeds song, the gravelling voice is like a smokier version of Tom Waits’, and all the melodies are memorable and haunting. It is very strange to realize you have never really gone through someone’s discography but all the songs mysteriously appear familiar to your ears, even when he covered Screaming Trees’ ‘Black Rose Way’, which sounded like a grunge western with a rich palette of guitar tones.
As the crowd was screaming several ‘I love you’, Lanegan stayed very quiet beside a few ‘thank you’. he seemed to cling on his mic, using it like a protection to deliver his next song, a sorrowful ‘No Bells on Sunday’. Twice, he called a female singer on stage, replacing PJ Harvey on backing vocals during the intense ‘Hit the City’, but since it was a tour to celebrate his last album ‘Gargoyle’, we also got the very catchy ‘Emperor’, the New-Order-sounding ‘Beehive’, and the superb and ravaging ‘Nocturne’, a signature song during which his hoarse vocals, married with the guitars and drums. were producing a vibration going from my toes to my stomach.
And if you have never seen Lanegan sing the tender ‘Deepest Shade’ in front of you, even though his eyes were just a vague shadow behind his glasses and the thick layers of blue smoky lights, you can’t understand the deep emotion that fell down on the first rows, occupied most exclusively by women. There were many more intense moments like this one during the 20-song set, while the atmosphere stayed lugubrious till the end, with a rare mix of tenderness and anxiety. ‘Floor of the Ocean’ had an epic cinematic-sweeping vibe, while ‘Methamphetamine Blues’ sounded like an early QOTSA fronted by Tom Waits singing Nick Cave,… and here I am, back to the comparisons, which can’t give justice to Lanegan’s unique talent.
After a very short break, there was an encore going from the very emotional ‘One Way Street’, to the scary, hell raising ‘Killing Season’, and especially a great Joy Division cover, making fans very happy. And this makes you wonder, why is Lanegan still such an underrated artist? Despite very little moves – he stepped back one or two times and moved the mic stand – despite very little talking, his stage presence was undeniable, and the love pouring from the crowd adorable: ‘I love you’… ‘I love you more!’ After the show, Mark took the time to go sit at the merchandize table to sign anything fans had on hands, and I made him sign the setlist and his last album ‘Gargoyle’, hanging out till the late hours on a week day night. He was wearing a cap and looked so low-key, he is obviously not someone who tries to build a myth à la Nick Cave, I thought… and at this moment, it was almost difficult to imagine that this seductive and abrasive baritone could come from such an enigmatic and shy persona.
Death’s Head Tattoo
Black Rose Way
No Bells on Sunday
Hit the City
Ode to Sad Disco
Riot in My House
Floor of the Ocean
One Hundred Days
One Way Street
Love Will Tear Us Apart