There is a reason why this post is ever so slightly late. At the end of his performance of Micheline, Mark Kozelek takes a moment to gather his thoughts before asking his gathered audience “Are you tired of these middle-aged ramblings of mine? ‘Cause I’m gonna go a lot more of them” before going into a short discussion of his recent viewing of True Detective. And as I was only halfway through watching the set at the time, I immediately switched off and vowed not to return until I’d finished watching it for fear that he might say something spoilery. My advice is – if you haven’t done so already – to watch True Detective from start to finish, as it’s incredible. And once you’ve done that, put this on and nod along sagely with his short and highly accurate summarising.
“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.
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.
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.
Just typing that subject header conjures feelings of “that really happened, didn’t it?” in this scribbler’s overheated mind. I still find it hard to believe that 2012 was the first time I got to see The Afghan Whigs in the flesh, after missing so many shows such a long time ago that it almost became a running gag in the ’90s. As time has shown, although the Afghan Whigs were part of the same stable as much of what was so exciting back in the day, they were one step ahead of them all. And I suppose this slightly out-of-phase attitude felt slightly odd when planning the gig-visits of the month. Well, I’ve learned my lesson good and proper. It wasn’t that long ago that I promised myself that the next time they breezed through anywhere near here, I’d be there. I’d didn’t expect it to be as soon as this. I certainly didn’t expect it to be this good. (more…)
I have spent all day checking my pocket. I have been doing this because all day it has had a ticket for tonight’s show in it and I have been paranoid all day about turning up at the door of the Student Union and producing either a ticket for a different city or – worse – that curious tribute to the surrealist Belgian artist René Magritte’s most famous work The Treachery of Images which is a favourite of all UK ticket vendors, the thing that looks exactly like the ticket I bought but with the words This Is Not A Ticket emblazoned upon its face. There is little hope for me in this regard.
Anyway, onto show number two. And after much messing about finding a car park that remained open after dusk near the venue followed by running into people in turn planned for, unexpected and hastily arranged (Jane, your ticket is here! Thanks to Denise, and sorry for saying to look for someone with longish hair and a dark coat milling about near the merch table as that didn’t really narrow it down at all…)
How time flies when you’re having fun, eh? I’ve seen Mark Lanegan onstage in various guises in recent years whether it be with Soulsavers, Isobel Campbell, the Gutter Twins (as part of a band or just with partner-in-crime Greg Dulli) or just on his own with an acoustic guitar for company, in a host of buildings including a chapel, a cathedral and an Art-Deco seaside public artspace. Yet it’s been over seven years since he’s been through promoting his own new material under his own banner.
This is the first of four such new shows I’ll be taking in over the course of the next week or so, which seems like a bit of a muchness. And it probably is – the Thesaurus is certainly going to get something of a hammering/bashing/awful running gag treatment before next Tuesday’s behind me. Fact is, I’ll be pottering around the country meeting up with friends old and new who I met through a shared appreciation of Lanegan’s varied career, so as with previous multi-show visits, it’s an excuse to get out of the house and hang out with good friends, some of which I’ll be meeting for the first time in three dimensions. It’s rather strange that this first show I’m attending is in the same room as the last time he rolled into town with a full band under his own name back in 2004, perhaps it’s a fondness for the building (more than a couple of times in the intervening period, he’s been found in the cosier environs of the Academy 3 upstairs from here with other acts) as it can’t be due to a struggle to fill larger venues – Manchester has been very supportive of Lanegan’s varied works over the years, and his stock has certainly risen recently despite a mainstream press still unable to neatly place him.
And to think that I nearly didn’t go to this show. For shame.
In fairness, I had a decent enough excuse in that I seem to have had a succession of bad colds from around just after Christmas that pretty much only completely cleared up last night. I had my fellow gig-goers’ best health in mind with this, as well as worrying about how what I thought an ambient, neo-classical show would sound with me unblocking my sinuses in the background. As it turned out, quietness was not something I needed to take into consideration. And my minor ailments paled into insignificance anyway, when it transpired that the headliners’ viola player almost wasn’t let into the country, so if they were going to go the extra mile to make the effort to show up, it would have been rude for me to have stayed at home…
A bit of a slight revisit this one, as thanks to the joys of preordering I’d been enjoying the downloaded tracks for a short while beforehand (and enjoying to the extent that I’d included this among my favourites of 2011). Thanks to the arrival of the 2xCD package that arrived yesterday as well as the arrival of a posh new pair of headphones (which comes with a free bottle-opener for reasons I’m not party to, nicely combining two of my favourite hobbies in one go nonetheless), I can ditch the digitals and pipe through something a bit more expansive.
Live albums are weird beasts at the best of times: even the most impressive and immersive recordings are just that – recordings. Strip away the physicality involved in actually being at a show, and it’s nigh-on impossible to replicate the experience, because almost all good and great shows are only partially about the performance itself. The portents were always going to be good for this particular one though – Twilight Singers frontman Greg Dulli knows exactly how to bring a performance to life, and his skills as bandleader, raconteur and general bon viveur are well suited to not just bridging the gap between stage and audience (every Twilight Singers show I’ve been to has felt like they’ve just turned up in your living room), but also concert hall to stereo. When Greg is facing his crowd, he’s doing this with the confidence of someone who knows exactly where he is (his local knowledge displayed at shows can be side-splittingly accurate) and what he’s doing; dipping in and out of a vast repertoire of cover version snippets and conversational asides safe in the knowledge that if he’s entertaining himself, then the rest of us will be having an absolute ball.
I’ll attempt to do something slightly different with this, as it’s certainly a slightly different release and as I’m pretty well-versed in the original recorded material (read here and here for a couple of examples) it feels a bit odd writing about them all over again, albeit in a different context. So, as context is king and all that, I’ll just knock up a list of what I think makes for any great live album based on a seemingly resolute criteria that has been passed down from generation to generation. Or, to put it another way, one that I seem to have arbitrarily knocked together for the sake of narrative.
Rule 1: The Cover Must Be Exciting
Rule 2: Bring Your Songs To Life
Rule 3: Involve Your Audience
Rule 4: Make The People At Home Sick With Jealousy
This was not a gig I was planning on going to see until last weekend (already having a ticket for Josh’s upcoming Manchester show in November), when a friend pointed out that Josh was to be once more supported by Richard Warren it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
The impressively CV’ed artist (as documented by JTP himself, introducing his support act) wasn’t so much bathed in red light as liberally pelted in it, the overdriven cardinal illumination matching the mood emanating from Richard’s heavily-reverbed guitars (both acoustic and electric) delivering a set that was fascinating to both listen to and watch, as at several points during his performance, he looked as though he and his guitar were locked in a fight for supremacy. It was a fight well-pitched though, bringing the best out of both of them as the songs (presumably mostly taken from his upcoming Wayfarer album) came out noisy, beautifully played and utterly eerie, the rising temperature in the sold-out room adding to the infernal atmosphere created by the music. Another great set, and the new album’s out on October 17th – can’t wait.
It seems strange on paper when the headline act’s full setlist stretches to a whole five songs, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story of Josh T Pearson’s headline set. “This first one’s called Tuning”, he quips as he takes to the stage and takes his guitar out of the case that has been on stage all evening. And indeed it’s some time before he begins his first song, as comments about the heat in the venue lead to him asking the audience whether or not he should take his jacket off, followed by the crowd chanting “Off! Off! Off!” and him obliging with a responding “You dirty bastards”. That this banter continues in good nature for a few more minutes before finally launching into opener Sweetheart, I Ain’t Your Christ sets the stall for the next hour, drawing the sadness of his songs and the impish delight of his lengthy chats between numbers from the same emotional well – presenting these apparently opposite sides to his personality brings a curious balance to the show, and to Pearson himself. It’s obvious from his performances that his songs still hurt; when he sings he stares at fixed points in the room throughout and lengthy instrumental passages are played with eyes closed, with Josh barely moving at all save for his fingers.
His approach, as well as presumably giving himself emotional breathing space between songs, has the crowd rapt. Pin-drop silent during songs to the point where, during part of Woman When I’ve Raised Hell, he briefly steps away from his microphone and turns his guitar pickup off and he can still be heard without amplification. And, just as we are quiet during his performance, we are in hysterics at his jokes; some cringingly and endearingly terrible (he really doesn’t like drummers by the sound of things), some utterly hilarious. Anyone reading this and planning to go to any of his later shows, you need to demand that he tells both goat jokes and *especially* the one about Willie Nelson. Audience participation was encouraged, although after the first joke (“How do you make a duck sing?”) was immediately answered by Josh (“put it in the oven until its Bill Withers”), the jocularity – and lengthy Big Lebowski quoting – was left to the headliner. The heat is once more referred to (“It’s nice to see British people sweat”) before announcing that “We got three more depressing songs now” and, after a couple more jokes (including the Willie Nelson one), he drifted into Sorry With a Song, once more sending the audience into silence as he went wherever he goes in order to do this, his delicate (and occasionally tempestuous) guitar picking and emotion-filled voice leading each other carefully through his stories. And when the final strains of Singer to the Crowd (“I stole this song off a Frenchman”) have been performed, the show is over and Josh leaves the stage seemingly (and hopefully) as happy as we are upon leaving the Brudenell Social Club.
Sweetheart, I Ain’t Your Christ
Woman When I’ve Raised Hell
Sorry With a Song
Singer to the Crowd
Josh T Pearson’s reputation as a singular recording artist is rapidly growing. With shows like this, his reputation as a unique and warm entertainer can only expand further and it’s highly advisable for anyone near anywhere he happens to be playing to go along and be enchanted and astounded. There’s really nothing like him.
All Human life is here, but the Holy Ghost seems to be somewhere else.