I’ve been to some odd locations for gigs lately. A field with a massive radio-telescope in it, a patio-ed room with a metal staircase in the middle of the dance floor, an art gallery beside the sea and a chapel.
And now, a full-on Cathedral. In as much as Cathedrals can be full-on. I’m not very religious, I have no idea how the terminology is supposed to work.
It’s not been that long (February, in fact) since I last saw Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan take the stage for a show that was enjoyable but somewhat perfunctory in nature, with neither the audience nor the artists really getting into the swing of things in the way that a live show probably should, certainly in comparison to previous shows that I had seen them perform (seeing Mark dab his eyes due to laughing so hard at a Christmas show in Bexhill-on-Sea is an odd image, but definitely a memorable one). This one was somewhat more upbeat, if somewhat curtailed by an errant toaster.
First of all, the Cathedral is beautiful. It doesn’t lend itself to mega-perfect sound, but that’s because it’s a Cathedral and built more for exultant lung-busting choral shenanigans rather than la Belle et le Bete that we were treated to tonight. This is a small matter though, as the charm of Isobel and Mark’s performance lies not in spot-on acoustic perfection, but in the strange chemistry they carry on stage with them.
Opening with a serene We Die And See Beauty Reign, the following setlist was more upbeat and poppy than I remember previous shows, with Honey Child What Can I Do? and Time of the Season being particular highlights. Old faves were still there as well, with Mark and Isobel taking centre stage for their respective solo songs The Circus Is Leaving Town and Saturday’s Gone. They are at their best when they’re together though (thankfully the small stage meant that they were a lot closer together than the apparent chasm of the Shepherd’s Bush stage), and the old idiosyncrasies were out in force – Mark tapping away on his mic stand when he wasn’t singing, Isobel fiddling about with an array of percussion when she wasn’t.
The main (well, non-literal) show-stopper came with the sultry Backburner, drawn out to create layer upon layer of tension before fading out, a rare accomplishment for a live song. Sadly, the evening came to a bit of an abrupt halt – during Something to Believe, an incessant peeping noise could be heard. Following directly from this, the house lights went up during Salvation and we were all told to bugger off outside as the peeping was a fire alarm. Not sure if anyone was let in after that, as after much standing about in the pleasant Manchester evening, we were informed that there was indeed a fire in part of the building, set off by a toaster – although the following statement of “the Fire Service are still trying to locate it” was a bit odd. I’m no expert, but toasters don’t tend to move about that much, and even the most stealthy breadwarmer would surely find it difficult to stay hidden for too long whilst being on fire….
So, not sure if anyone was let in as I got bored after a bit and sodded off into the night. Also, all my pictures came out rubbish as I was stood in front of the Big Red Light that was illuminating most of the band (Mark once more choosing the shadows for his vantage point), although in fairness a green one fired up every now and then – sadly, no “Put your 3D glasses on Now!!” accompanied this bonus illumination. Shame.
But what we had by way of pre-infernal-Breville entertainment was really well-received by the Manchester crowd (despite several radio-based session visits, these two had only popped into town for the benefit of a viewing public once before, so the songs were listened to intently, and the pauses were punctuated loudly. A strange night out, but a good one.