Like Bill Murray, Bobby Womack and Danny Dyer, MARK LANEGAN’s life is one that has defied F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous adage by going into a second act. And against some odds. The Screaming Trees’ lead singer took to the grunge lifestyle of the era with great aplomb by enjoying all the trappings, and the limping grizzled specimen we see before us tonight is testament to those excesses. However, unlike some of his contemporaries, Lanegan soldiered through into the new millennium and gained a new lease of life.
The Washington native always had other projects going, aside from the Trees; the solo albums kept coming as did collaborations with various members of the grunge movement, but his work with desert rockers Queens Of The Stone Age on the album Rated R onwards is what got him noticed by a whole new audience, and perhaps ushered him down a newer but equally gravelly road.
The O2 tonight, however, is packed with what looks like fans Lanegan has picked up through all stages of his career, and the majority take in the show with a connoisseur’s reserve which I doubt was present in the early 90s. But the devotion is clearly felt as the blues-rock heavyweight ambles on stage with 90s swagger and a determination not to let down his disciples.
The throbbing riff of The Gravedigger’s Song is a fitting start and that famous voice is quite something for your ears to behold. Constructed of decades of abuse, living, singing (and probably taking) a variety of blues, it rumbles around the venue like burdensome howls echoing regret. It is all the more astounding when a courteous “thank you very much” reveals a speaking voice which sounds like Satan doing a Louis Armstrong impression. Lanegan somehow tames that growl to give the melodies of songs such as Harvest Home and The Killing Season from latest album Phantom Radio the vibrancy they deserve.
Although the highlights of the set undoubtedly come from the singer’s two classic albums, Bubblegum and Blues Funeral, it is the newer songs which demonstrate Lanegan’s restless creativity and ability to turn his hand to a variety of genres. Bunnymen and other 80s luminaries can be heard in the synth-driven anthems from last year’s opus but it is that trademark drawl which gives little doubt to who their creator is and binds the set together.
Hit The City and Methamphetamine Blues demonstrate the skills of Lanegan’s crack band and that is when the show really gets into top gear. All the songs tonight, in fact, feel like they would make incredible road-trip anthems, whether that’s rolling through a dusty desert town to One Way Street or touring a nocturnal city to No Bells On Sunday.
Lanegan is old school and as such he obviously feels it is only right to treat the audience to an old-fashioned encore. The content of the encore, however, is anything but old-fashioned. The show culminates with The Lanegan Band long-term collaborator Duke Garwood performing a thoroughly exhilarating version of the UNKLE remix of Killing Season from this year’s A Thousand Miles Of Midnight – Phantom Radio Remixes album. For a man who once did an EP of Leadbelly covers, it’s a daring and fantastically forward-thinking move. A move that makes you wonder whether there is a third act still to come from this rock journeyman. We hope so.