Weeks off work tend to be the busiest times, don’t they? After an unexpectedly long walk home from being dumped in slightly the wrong county after Sunday’s Afghan Whigs show, I find myself off down the M6 to a city I’ve been through before but never actually to, in order to see Mark Lanegan and his band yet again, in the company of friends. I should point out that I ran into a couple of these friends in London on Sunday, with only enough time for the briefest of pleasantries and a mutually unsurprised “see you on Wednesday” as if people from cities at either end of the country meeting somewhere in the middle on a weekday evening was completely normal behaviour. I’m rather glad to say that, as far as myself and my friends are concerned, it kind of is.
There’s something ever so slightly cheeky about Belgium’s Creature With The Atom Brain, once again the very welcome opening act for Mark. there’s probably rules and etiquette regarding What Support Acts Are Supposed To Do, and Aldo Struyf’s band happily (for both them and us) don’t bother with any of that and instead launch into huge psychedelic instrumental passages whenever the mood takes them. Playing a similar set to shows from earlier this year (although I’m thinking that Spinnin’ The Black Hole from their Transylvania is a fairly recent addition to previous sets I’ve witnessed, and it was a pleasure to hear it here), they were once more unwinding, spacey and entertaining, the early crowd in this not-quite-filled hall enjoying them hugely.
- After the customary “unscrew most of the lightbulbs” pause in proceedings, Mark Lanegan took the stage and the band launched straight into The Gravedigger’s Song. As with much (but not all) of this evening’s set, it was a mellower evening all round which was probably due to much of the area in front of the stage not being especially crushed together. The relaxed atmosphere was further helped along with the help of some of the gentler songs in his canon, One Way Street,
- Resurrection Song and a surprisingly calm Gray Goes Black got the audience into a loose mood before turning the volume up with Quiver Syndrome and then straight back down again for One Hundred Days. A highlight of the evening followed soon after, with a brilliantly realised rendition of the Screaming Trees’ Black Rose Way, one of two songs from his previous band (Crawlspace being the other, arriving somewhat amusingly just as someone in the crowd shouted for another old Trees song, which may or not have been Nearly Lost You) and my favourite track from their recently-unearthed Last Words album. Another came during the encore, with a suitably funereal cover of the Smoke Fairies’ Devil In My Mind which was a rather lovely repayment of the compliment paid to Mark by the Fairies’ version of Wish You Well on their recent EP, and – as a fan of both acts – I can’t help but hope that this mutual admiration becomes something rather more collaborative in the future.
There was a bit of strangeness about two-thirds into the set when stuff (no idea what, it never got much of a mention) started being thrown onto the stage. This came to a bit of a head when something that looked like a dishcloth arced through the air during the opening of Ode To Sad Disco and landed right on top of Mark’s hand (clutching, as tradition dictates, his mic stand – although in fairness this prop is treated less as an immobile crutch and more of a plaything to be swayed against, tapped and fiddled with depending on what’s being played nowadays). Bit of a poor showing, but it has to be said, also a bit of a good shot. This also served as a bit of a distraction to the fact that the gig seemed to be getting louder, the motorik beat threatening to drown out Lanegan’s voice. And by the time Methamphetamine Blues closed the show, the performance was positively and gleefully cacophonic, leaving ears ringing and drowning out Mark’s final farewells to the crowd (“See you in the New Year”?). So loud in fact I had to apologise immediately to at least three people immediately after the show who asked me what I thought of it and who got the reply “GREAT WASN’T IT? BIT LOUD AT THE END”, as if I was suddenly a grandma.
There was much to enjoy from tonight’s (as billed) pre-festival performance: a couple of newly-performed songs being the obvious, but the band is working so well with Mark’s voice and the vision he has for his music that it was all good stuff whether this was someone’s first time seeing him or the latest in several this year. And despite the apparent relaxed nature of the event, Mark still left the stage drenched in sweat, the audience were roaring their assent from start to finish, especially the man stood near me who every now and then shouted something in either Spanish or Italian in a slightly high-pitched voice. The only real shame was that the Wulfrun Hall wasn’t particularly full, but that’s more of a downer for those who weren’t there as those who were had a whale of a time. Roll on December!
(crossed out song for the benefit of anyone interested is Leviathan)