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Mark Lanegan: It falls like heaven’s rain

Mark Lanegan


Mark Lanegan | Union Chapel |  3 May 2016

In concert, Mark Lanegan likes to stand still. In his career, not so much. Always moving forwards, since the initial success of Screaming Trees his discography is one of solo and band recordings, collaborations, side projects, and “imitations”. ‘An Evening With Mark Lanegan’ embraces all of it, creating a cohesive set by stripping back the music and focusing on what’s important: his ragged baritone.

Backed by just two guitarists and a bass player, that voice effortlessly navigates an eclectic 30-year career, from grunge to ‘50s swing, without losing the spirit of the original studio recordings. So quiet set opener ‘One Way Street’ sounds just as tender as it did on 2001’s ‘Field Songs’ and ‘Mirrored’ actually sounds even more ominous than it has before.

Even without drums, ‘The Gravedigger’s Song’ loses none of its swampy groove thanks to the interplay between the guitarists, with one playing the bluesy riff and the other – frequent collaborator Duke Garwood – adding sonic textures. Relieved of its organ and gospel-tinged backing vocals, the hymnal ‘Strange Religion’ from 2004’s ‘Bubblegum’ becomes the perfect companion piece to the shuffling Dylanesque title track of 1999’s ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’. And while pairing two songs from current Mark Lanegan Band release ‘Phantom Radio’ would seem like less of a stretch, the biblical dirge ‘Judgement Time’ doesn’t need much reworking, but ‘Torn Red Heart’ must survive without a wall of shimmering keys and guitars. It does and, following the makeover, sounds even more despairing.

Lanegan’s renditions of ‘Mack The Knife’ and ‘You Only Live Twice’ retain the minimalist approach employed on the ‘Imitations’ album, ‘One Hundred Days’ keeps its unlikely swing, and ‘On Jesus’ Program’ remains a chance for the singer to push his voice to breaking point, accompanied by two chiming guitars. Garwood collaborations ‘Driver’ and ‘Mescalito’ immaculately recreate the woozy, dreamlike atmosphere of 2013’s ‘Black Pudding’, while ‘I Am The Wolf’ is as seductively menacing as you remember.

Most impressive though are the two songs that have been completely reimagined. Soulsavers collaboration ‘Can’t Catch The Train’, originally all piano, strings, and brass, is performed tonight with just one guitar but all the anguish. And Screaming Trees’ raging ‘Hallow Of Ashes’, originally performed by four men in their early 30s, sounds almost more visceral than it did 20 years ago, even though, again, it’s played (with almost no restraint) on just one guitar. Lanegan himself may appear unmoved by the magic of the moment, but the Union Chapel audience clearly are not.