One of the plus sides to this new-fangled digital approach to music distribution is that artists or labels aren’t necessarily tied down to traditional release dates. That many still do is probably a nod to tradition and habit more than anything else, as chart-bothering doesn’t seem as exciting as it used to be; overhyped drivel from whatever was on the TV karaoke shows the day before to a market with the attention span of a ringtone being the one-hit order of the day.
So it’s nice that, in these uncertain and compressed times, that it’s possible for anyone nowadays to go “hello everyone, have a record” pretty much on a whim. Social media provides instant advertising to those already in the loop, who then pass it on and on. In theory, all this model really requires in order for it to succeed is for the artists and labels embracing it to put out stuff that is actually good. Which is sort of how I remember good music being promoted and passed around as well.
Thankfully, there’s a point to all of this. Texas-based musical co-operative My Jerusalem has today released 11 tracks of something that casts their communal net wider than ever, and evoking the spirit of a favourite album of mine from some time ago.
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
Out of the three acoustic Mark Lanegan shows I attended, the show at Leeds was probably my favourite. Possibly due to the utter lack of expectation afforded by it being the first one I went to, maybe due it being the only one I could see the artists for the entire show (was at the back in Manchester, catching up with a friend not seen in ages. And everyone in Nottingham was taller than me), or it simply be that this was the best actual performance.
Whatever the reason, it was a nice surprise to find out that later dates had a CD available of the soundboard recording of this show, so I snapped up one for myself, another for immediate dispatch to a friend in the US, and a third for another friend. I could have parked them on ebay and made a small killing, but that wouldn’t be sporting.
“Uh… we’re gonna be doin’ this set acapella”
A slight delay with the main act tonight when Dave Rosser’s guitar wasn’t making any discernable noise, although this was soon solved through the application of (technical term, I believe) a small amount of jiggling, and then we were underway for the last show that I would be catching on this tour.
It’s always a strange experience visiting this wonderful little venue, as I have been going there for years and keep seeing the same people without ever knowing who any of them are. And the way they look around the room at others and myself, they feel the same way too. A lovely little community then, none of whom have ever spoken to each other during the past two decades, and all of us getting that little bit fatter with each show we go to.
Anyway, I thought I’d struggle with this one – doing a second review of what could have been the same show, only 24 hours later usually means getting the Thesaurus out and doing the same thing over again but with different and longer words. But no! This show was very different from last night’s, and not just because the Towel Table was considerably larger than the previous one. (more…)
This almost didn’t happen for me, thanks to a slight ‘overdoing’ last night at a friend’s birthday party. All-day hangovers are not great accompaniments to cross-county travel. Anyway, lots of water and a satnav that rather worryingly kept telling me to make sharp right turns on the motorway later, I found myself in the friendly (especially the little fat dog!) and hellishly hot Brudenell Social Club, having absolutely no idea exactly what sort of show we were in store for. (more…)