To be honest, I wasn’t going to bother doing anything on this show as I’ve done enough of these already this year! The plan was to chill out, hang out with friends who I’d not seen for a while (one of whom was celebrating her birthday) and just soak in the show without having to worry about thinking about it. There’s also the thing about writing about multiple versions of a similar show that requires finding something unique to wrap the whole shebang around that gives each show its character. The fact that I’m sitting here on a train tapping this out on a phone is probably as good an indication of how unique of character last night’s show was.
And that’s without taking into account watching the many people trying to make their way down steps that weren’t there by trying to walk through a metal barrier that was.

Arriving slightly late, we sadly missed Lyenn’s opening set and almost all of Duke Garwood’s performance, catching mere snippets of that as we availed ourselves of the goodies available at the merchandise stand. Good job we did too, as the Christmas CDs – according to reports garnered from elsewhere today – were gone shortly afterwards.

So, on to Creature With The Atom Brain who provided a similar set to the one they’ve been touring for most of this year. Weirdly, it wasn’t their brightest performance I’ve seen of theirs – the band were still throwing themselves into it gamely enough, and I still chortle at the chutzpah employed in doing a drum solo during a support slot (in the set’s highlight Wolf Eyes), but their usual brightness was dimmed both literally (they usually enjoy a much more illuminated set than the headliner, tonight they were barely illuminated) and sonically, as they performed their set through a very muddy sound system that dampened everyone’s enthusiasm. Closer Transylvania saw Duke Garwood reappear onstage for a very strange saxophone-accompanied ending to the set – Baker Street it wasn’t, but it was a fun, chaotic end to their set.

Yeah, I know. On the plus side, it’s better than just text, and you know what they look like just as much as you know how crap I am at taking phone pics even when I’m not chilling at the back.

 

 

A quick tidy-up later, and CWTAB’s Aldo Struyf and Jean-Phillippe de Gheest were back on stage, joined swiftly by guitarist Steven Janssens and bassist Frederic Jacques (himself fresh from his opening sting as Lyenn), and almost before Mark Lanegan himself could get both his hands on the mic stand, the band launched into Gravedigger’s Song. Immediately, the place brightened up – as well as the sound becoming almost immediately pin-sharp, the band were drenched in their now-familiar bright red wash of lighting, including Mark himself who usually seems to prefer a more shadowy presence. And as usual, the crowd were rapt throughout, treated as they were to a set culled mostly from this year’s Blues Funeral plus a few choice cuts from elsewhere along his musical journey. The highlight from his current collection came in the form of Quiver Syndrome, a song not so much performed last night as fired out of a cannon – where the set before had been largely mellow and powerfully moody, this thing basically ran in, set a massive firecracker off in the middle of the room and ran out again before anyone could catch their breath. An absolutely barnstorming rendition of the song, it took the following calm of One Hundred Days to take it all in.

Another one knocked clean out of the park was the Screaming Trees’ Black Rose Way, the bright sound in the auditorium allowing every part of this uptempo number (especially everyone’s enthusiasm for playing it) shine through. As with other songs that this band have dropped into their set during their prolonged touring, BRW has benefitted hugely from a bit more familiarity: this is also true of their cover of the Smoke Fairies’ Devil In My Mind, the “London churns like it wants me for dead” line delivered with extra relish for the home crowd, Steve managing admirably to replicate the song’s cello parts on his guitar and Frederic pulling off a backing vocal so accurate to the original that I was straining to see if Catherine and Jessica had appeared on stage with them.

After the beautiful sendoff of Tiny Grain Of Truth, it was very quickly off stage and then very quickly back on again (time was against us) for the dual crowdpleasers of Hangin’ Tree and Methamphetamine Blues, bringing a raucous end to a great evening. Overall, I’d still have to say that the Birmingham show remains my favourite of this tour (for reasons of music, setting and company), but this really ran it close. There’s no denying that the nine months of touring has honed this band into a unit more than capable of consistently and excellently performing these songs. Not a foot was put wrong last night, and when the wheels finally fall off the bus, hopefully their services are retained for the next adventure.

 

 

Setlist:

Gravedigger’s Song

Sleep With Me

Hit The City

Wedding Dress

One Way Street

Phantasmagoria Blues

Grey Goes Black

Devil In My Mind (Smoke Fairies Cover)

Harborview Hospital

Quiver Syndrome

One Hundred Days

Creeping Coastline Of Lights

Black Rose Way

Riot In My House

Ode To Sad Disco

St. Louis Elegy

Tiny Grain Of Truth

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Hangin’ Tree

Methamphetamine Blues