Mark Lanegan Band | KOKO | 12 December 2017
Mark Lanegan’s voice is so rich and textured that he can, and sometimes does, perform without a full band. But while there’s a purity and intimacy to the stripped back approach, there’s a real thrill to hearing the songs as they were recorded, those robust vocals paired with equally uncompromising instrumentation.
The five songs performed from far-reaching current album ‘Gargoyle’ especially benefit from a full musical palette. Brooding set opener ‘Death’s Head Tattoo’ pairs a motorik beat and rumbling bassline with muted but threatening guitars; the off-kilter waltz ‘Sister’ takes full advantage of keyboards and female backing vocals; the bright and breezy ‘Emperor’, all shiny happy guitars and lush organ swells, swings like an Americana hit on speed; the industrial blues of ‘Nocturne’ would lose its menace without the synth drums and pounding heartbeat bassline; and ‘Beehive’ absolutely needs those jangly guitars and that Peter Hook-Stephen Morris groove to sound like the best song New Order never wrote.
Lanegan’s other landmark solo albums – ‘Phantom Radio’, ‘Blues Funeral’, and ‘Bubblegum’ – are equally well represented. Grinding electro-blues confessionals ‘The Gravedigger’s Song’ and ‘Bleeding Muddy Water’ are perfect companion pieces for the brittle beauty of the rootsy ‘Methamphetamine Blues’, the shimmering melancholy of ‘Floor Of The Ocean’, the insistent yearning of ‘Hit The City’ with its intertwined vocals, and the gently swaying indie rock ballad ‘One Hundred Days’. Even a piano-led country-tinged rendition of The Twilight Singers’ ‘Deepest Shade’ (from his covers album ‘Imitations’) feels right at home in this multi-dimensional set that, during songs, brings a reverent hush over the KOKO audience.
Lanegan himself is almost just as quiet between songs, largely limiting himself to a few sincere thank yous, but that only puts more focus on the songs themselves. That focus intensifies during the encore when the singer returns to the stage without most of his musicians. ‘Torn Red Heart’ and its refrain of “you don’t love me” sound even more despairing, ‘One Way Street’ gains all the vulnerability of Johnny Cash’s ‘American Recordings’ LPs, and a stark take on ‘I Am The Wolf’ lets its bleak poetry take hold. It’s the perfect postscript to an already gripping evening.