I honestly thought that I would struggle to write this one up. I mean, this is the 4th time I’d seen Mark and David during this tour, how could it possibly be different? By absolutely nailing down an incredible performance, that’s how.
The Union Chapel in Islington is a singularly wonderful venue. Being an actual church, it’s perfect for carrying sound around the entire room – a small speaker stack (which in itself wasn’t so much a stack as a small, neat pile) was more than sufficient to lift Mark’s voice around all of the assembled congregation.
The setting is stunning for a live music venue. Performances take place in front of the pulpit (this show’s Towel Table suspiciously taking the form of a font) and beneath a huge stained glass window with angels playing various instruments above the inscription which is something along the lines of “Play on your harps and make music for our God” (I wish I’d written it down now), certainly fitting for a show of this nature. It’s also surprisingly big – wooden pews fill up the whole of the main area, plus further seating up in the balconies. It may have the feel of an intimate show, but it can’t half pack them in.
One notable change in setup however came from David Rosser’s setup. No acoustic guitars tonight, but an electric one with a rather interesting trick up it’s sleeve…
Performing these previously-acoustic arrangements with an electric guitar worked very well, David now exploring the spaces around each song and giving them his own distinct flavour – Bombed during the jaw-dropping encore in particular sounding far more expansive than it’s original incarnation – but also exercising restraint where required, One Hundred Days being an excellent example of sticking to the script, because change just isn’t necessary. The additional trick came from an additional MIDI pickup on his guitar, allowing for a whole range of additional backing embellishments. This came as quite a surprise the first time this was employed when I’ll Take Care Of You suddenly had a spectral organ accompaniment, but rather than a gimmick, this brought some amazing extra layers to the songs every time it was used.
The non-acoustic performance also gave whole new dimensions to some songs – Wild Flowers in particular given a whole new lease of life that lifted it far from The Winding Sheet’s isolated, understated original. Hit The City also took advantage of this plugged-in approach, although (as with the occasional Shelley-less Bubblegum shows of yore, compared to the times when she was there) the song does lack some of it’s punch without a feisty female vocal accompaniment.
The main set passed excitingly enough, with many notable highlights: Where the Twain Shall Meet, a Kinks-written Dave Berry cover in This Strange Effect and an utterly transcendent River Rise being the standouts for me. But it’s the encore that made the night all the more special. Screaming Trees favourites Dying Days, Shadow of the Season and Halo of Ashes appearing in quick succession and played at full pelt which made one forget that there was only two guys on stage. The latter song was especially breathtaking due to David taking the song’s sitar motif and turning it into a full-blooded middle-eastern drone. Incredible.
And of course, central to this all is the voice and performance of Mark Lanegan. Looking decidedly chipper tonight with plenty of surreptitious air-guitaring of the microphone stand and a more laid-back physical manner than usual, he put his vocal chords right through their paces. Soft and gentle during This Strange Effect, down to a whisper during the middle part of Screaming Trees oldie Where the Twain Shall Meet, right up to a roar during the encores. Mark’s voice is often lazily-described as being somewhat one-dimensional, dark and malevolent (“gravelly” tends to be the catch-all), but this doesn’t cover half of what he’s capable of doing with it.
Given that it’s only been two people on stage throughout this tour, it’s genuinely amazing at the depth and difference in each performance I have seen this year, and this show tops it all of wonderfully. Fully deserving of their standing ovation after the show, it was a brilliant performance in a wonderful arena. And I now have to be nice for the rest of the week by way of penance, as I swore rather loudly and excitedly as Halo started. Ah well, only a couple more days to go…
Special mention should also be given to support act Duke Garwood – less chatty than usual, choosing instead to rattle through his repertoire of hypnotically-interesting dark blues, his full-volumed guitar filling the church in a most eerie way, and getting a rapturous cheer from the crowd for his work.
One Way Street
No Easy Action / Miracle
I’ll Take Care Of You
Like Little Willie John
Don’t Forget Me
Where the Twain Shall Meet
When Your Number Isn’t Up
Message to Mine
This Strange Effect
One Hundred Days
Hit the City
On Jesus’ Program
Shadow of the Season
Halo of Ashes