With each album and with each col­lab­o­ra­tion, Mark Lane­gan’s star ascends anoth­er notch into the fir­ma­ment. He’s a man with an impec­ca­ble rock back­sto­ry, Amer­i­can bad boy incar­nate, equal­ly at home as a char­ac­ter from Butcher’s Cross­ing to Twin Peaks; his is a world seen from the wrong side of the tracks. His voice is raspy, capa­ble of wist­ful­ness and warmth, and laced with a men­ace that thrills. His lyrics, pow­er­ful and beau­ti­ful, tell tales of love, mor­tal­i­ty, dark­ness, death and torment.

Very last minute, we bought tick­ets Shep­herds’ Bush 02, up on Tier 2 which did­n’t seem ver­tig­i­nous­ly high but was not exact­ly part of the action. I found myself mus­ing on the fact that The Trades, where he played four days pre­vi­ous­ly, would have been by far the bet­ter option: squashed into a room of around 200 for a more inti­mate experience.

Lane­gan makes his entrance on stage. When You’re Num­ber Isn’t Up from Bub­blegum is a stark, still and effec­tive mood set­ter, draw­ing us in. Judge­ment Time fol­lows, hold­ing the slow mood with this gem from Phan­tom Radio. “I saw whole cities drown­ing, I saw whole armies dying”. His grav­el vocals slide round the lyrics, with that vibra­to qual­i­ty used to great effect. Dead on You lures you in with its lazy, sexy swampy blues. Things ramp up a bit a few num­bers in, tak­ing on a more synth qual­i­ty, and the very air seems to thick­en: there’s the exquis­ite, expan­sive The Gravedig­ger’s Song and it’s tur­bu­lent lyrics, one line always makes me shiv­er with its beau­ty: “To the stars my love, To the sea”. The more upbeat Har­vest Home injects a lighter mood into the pro­ceed­ings. When Lane­gan launch­es into Sleep With Me with such lush sleaze in his voice, I don’t imag­ine any­one would refuse his invitation.

Lane­gan is on stage sur­round­ed by his four musi­cians, all bare­ly vis­i­ble in the gloom. The light­ing is inten­tion­al­ly set at a mean and moody low that Lane­gan and crew are not much more than sil­hou­ettes for most of the show. Lane­gan is known to be not one for any audi­ence chit chat – I think that apart from a small wave and a ‘Thanks’ there was­n’t anoth­er word from him all night. And nor does he care for stage antics, pre­fer­ring to stand still, a hunched fig­ure over his microphone.

As some­one who has attend­ed gigs on a reg­u­lar basis for … erm, around 40 years, this was one of the odd­est expe­ri­ences. Beau­ti­ful songs, beau­ti­ful deliv­ery, but some­thing did­n’t feel quite right. I had a strange sen­sa­tion of not being present with the musi­cians, with­out the unit­ing expe­ri­ence between per­former and audi­ence. There’s only one thing for it, which is to see him next time around with a ring­side seat.

Mark Lanegan
Zoom­ing in on Lane­gan and band

WHO: Mark Lane­gan Band plus 2 sup­port acts
WHEN: Jan­u­ary 28, 2015
WHERE:02 Shep­herd’s Bush Empire, London
TICKETS: £20.00

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