By Steve Mcgillivray
August 29, 2012
It’s been a while since I last saw Mark Lanegan. Back then he was still the front man of US rock band Screaming Trees and was playing Glasgow’s Garage in support of their album Dust. Some 16 years later I’m looking forward to seeing Mark Lanegan perform again, this time in the guise of singer with the Mark Lanegan Band. Judging by the average age of the audience tonight, I’m not alone in being familiar with him in his role as Screaming Trees’ lead singer. The oldies like me definitely outnumber the younger audience members, but many will be familiar with Lanegan from his work with The Gutter Twins, Soulsavers, The Twilight Singers, Queens of the Stone Age and also with ex-Belle & Sebastian chanteuse Isobel Campbell. Strangely enough, one of the people I was at the Screaming Trees gig with was a former band mate of Isobel Campbell’s.
I arrive just a tad too late to catch the first support band of the night, but I find my spot by the sound desk in time for the main support of the evening, Belgium’s Creature with the Atom Brain. The foursome waste no time with chat, announcing who they are and no more, before launching into their first song. They rock pretty well, as it turns out. The bass guitar in particular is excellent. They’re pretty much an alt-rock band, but they prefer to keep lyrics to a minimum and stick to the music. There are plenty of riffs and rocking moments from them, and while the vocals aren’t prominent, they’re not missed thanks to the driving instrumental passages the band are blasting out. There’s enough variety in the tempo and rhythm of the songs to keep the crowd engaged and that’s no mean feat from a support band with such a high profile name above them on the bill. The guy in front of me certainly enjoys them, opting out of applause in favour of silently raising his pint in salute to the Belgian band.
Before the Mark Lanegan Band take to the stage, the venue really starts to fill up. More middle-aged men pile into the venue and the atmosphere is tangible—you can feel the anticipation. We don’t have long to wait until the band take to the stage, with Lanegan himself strolling out last to thunderous applause. Immediately the lead guitar bursts into life and Lanegan takes a death grip on his mic and stand, unleashing his powerful voice onto the waiting audience. It’s immense. The growl I so fondly remember from all those years ago has matured and done 16 years of hard labour and sounds even better! There’s no let up from the word go. ‘The Gravedigger’s Song,’ ‘Sleep With Me’ and ‘Hit The City’ are fired at the crowd with barely a pause between. Lanegan stands there wrestling with his demons as he delivers his sermon in the gravest of voices. It’s utterly compelling stuff.
The lead guitar is sounding fantastic as Steven Janssens wields it like a weapon, snatching it back and forth as he conjures up some great moments. Looking like a cross between Johnny Cash and Bill Pullman, he stalks his corner of the stage wringing out some fantastic sounds from his array of guitars. Over on the other side of the stage, Aldo Struyf was perched behind his keyboard, helping on vocals and occasionally picking up a guitar to great effect while the excellent rhythm section went about business very well. Mid-set the tempo picks up and the songs feel fuller and for me it was rocking. Add in that voice and it was pretty impressive.
The slower songs were very effective also, coming over with a certain amount of menace. When the tempo slows, the lights seem darker, the atmosphere of the room more oppressive and the world a more dangerous place as Lanegan growls from his central position gripping the microphone. There’s very little chat between songs, the barest of nods indicating appreciation of the reception each song receives. Lanegan spends most of the time looking slightly off to the side and shaking his head between verses, almost like he’s battling voices but when he turned to that microphone you could feel the results in your chest as the sound crashed against you.
Theband departed as they arrived once the final notes of ‘Tiny Grain of Truth’ drifted towards the heavens of the former cinema. The response from the crowd was immediate and of the appreciative variety. The band soon returned, and the longest speech of the night from Lanegan was to thank the support bands and the audience, before the band kicked off a three song encore, ending in the utterly magnificent ‘Methamphetamine Blues.’ It sounded epic and was a fitting end to a really impressive set from all concerned. Part of me had hoped for some material from Dust, but I did get a couple of Screaming Trees covers so I can’t really complain. All told it has been a really great night and a pleasure to see such an impressive frontman in action.