“Bit short-changed there”, said the bloke passing us on the way out of the auditorium at half-past nine, after the set that began at half-past eight had finished. Well, away with you sir, that was great. To paraphrase an old BBC comedy play, never mind the width, feel the quality.
For such a short and early set (presumably with one eye on tonight’s footballing doings ) it wasn’t half packed, and came with a couple of surprises. Not only did the lightbulbs illuminating the stage actually change colour from their traditional red, Mark also took centre stage under a de facto spotlight! Anyway, after a ticket-purchasing farce which saw us perched right at the back (as the following snaps barely illustrate – by the way, I’m not sure if I should feel relieved or wounded that I didn’t feature in the Guardian’s recent “worst gig photos”), we witnessed a rather stunning set as well as a lot of people who couldn’t stay sat down for five minutes at a time without wandering off outside.
Silly and slightly annoyed observations aside, the main thing I came away from the show with was the feeling that something genuinely special had happened. Having seen several shows of Mark’s with Dave Rosser providing accompaniment, this was the first I’d seen with Jeff Fielder, who approached the songs in a different fashion to his predecessor – the most obvious difference being that this was a lot louder.
There’s much fun to be had with the set list, partly coming from trying to guess which song would unfold from each introduction, but mostly from the joy in realising that it’s yet another favourite – especially from a group in the back corner, whose audible glee at the beginning of a cute rendition of Mack The Knife chimed in could be heard by all.
Where to begin with highlights from a set spanning a huge chunk of his career? A bright Where The Twain Shall Meet; a raucous Gravedigger’s Song (no mean feat with a single guitar backing); a gentle Can’t Catch The Train… honours have to go however to three other tracks: Phantasmagoria Blues was absolutely beautiful and moving; Wildflowers (which for me remains his finest song) was the best I’d heard it; and Halo Of Ashes, complete with an extended workout from Mr Fielder (a man clearly having the time of his life) drawing its own well-deserved cheer from the audience while Mark enjoyed a well- earned sit down at the back of the stage, simply bringing the roof down.
Duke Garwood made a notable appearance also, debuting a promising song about wolves (one of two new songs aired this evening), with he and Jeff playing off each other to good effect in the shadows behind Mark’s spotlit self, unmoving as usual except to tap at his microphone stand with his fingers and (as he did all evening) grind away at something on the floor with his foot. I look forward to hearing this song again in the future, wherever it may surface.
I’ll be absolutely honest here. Until someone pointed out the time to me, I didn’t really notice that this wasn’t a usual show, such was the level of the performance. It was certainly a strange experience to come out of a gig into light due to the early start (that saw people still arriving right the way through the show). I’ve seen far more than my fair share of solo Mark Lanegan shows, and right now I can’t think of many that were better than this. It’s equally delightful to know that this was a friend if mine’s first experience of seeing Mark live onstage, for as first experiences go this one will be hard to top. That spotlight suits him perfectly.