mark lanegan photo

Mark Lanegan


 Pushed by this January night’s icy wind and rain, and pulled by the prospect of live music from Mark Lanegan Band, I am more or less sucked in through the open doors of The Ritz. The interior climate is immediately to my liking, and I do not instantly melt from any dramatic change in temperature. Support band Sean Wheeler & Zander Schloss is warming the crowd up charismatically and charmingly in its Tom-Waitsian way, the merch stand is well stocked, bar queues are short, and it feels great to be indoors. For 30 years now, with his blues-inspired gothic dreamscapes, Mark Lanegan has been building up a body of work that has brought him widespread acclaim for his songs and vocals. On his last couple of LPs, 2012’s Blues Funeral and last year’s Phantom Radio, Lanegan successfully added to the traditional instrumental mix by incorporating elements of electronica with no interruption in his career path of deliciously dark and mysterious music. He has recently been fond of using phone apps for recording, and tonight should prove insightful in terms of how these recent songs are tackled live.

Lanegan and his guitarist Jeff Fielder step out into the low light of the stage to begin the set with ‘When Your Number Isn’t Up’, the opening song from 2004’s Bubblegum. The guitar atmospherics mix perfectly with the murky sight of the two musicians out front, but, as ever, it’s Lanegan’s gravelly and flexible voice that commands most attention. Assuming his usual pose of left hand on the mic and right hand on the mic stand, his lack of motion only adds to his aura and mystique in this performance context.

Five songs in and, although this was billed as a full-band tour, so far the sound filling The Ritz is coming only from Lanegan and Fielder. Not that I think anyone present could have a grievance at the quality on show. If anything, songs like ‘Low’ and new compositions ‘Judgement Time’ and ‘The Wild People’ truly reveal their melodic beauty with this bare-bones approach.


Mark Lanegan

Then, sure enough, we get the full band. With Aldo Struyf’s keyboards and effects and Jean-Philippe De Gheest’s drums and percussion added to the mix, ‘No Bells On Sunday’, the title track from last year’s EP, has the burbling electronica from the record. On account of some tall human obstructions, I tilt my head and sidestep a little to get a good look at all four musicians. My friend, himself on the tall side but always thinking of others, has suggested a raised platform for part of the floor at live music venues, and we agree that only those 5’6” or shorter should be granted access.

By the time the eerie, low-end keyboard effects and picked guitar have passed at the conclusion of the moody but spiritual and ultimately redemptive ‘Resurrection Song’, I realise that I was caught up in the reverie and had forgotten all about any viewing obstructions. I make a mental note to suggest to my new band mates that we do our own cover of this particular piece.

Singing his way through the majority of Phantom Radio, older songs like ‘Sleep With Me’, with its dynamic drums that are given room to breathe, also stand out. A prolific collaborator, Lanegan has worked on projects with the likes of Greg Dulli (The Afghan Whigs) and Isobel Campbell (Belle and Sebastian), and in the encore tonight we get a rendition of ‘Revival’ from his 2007 hook-up with UK electronic outfit Soulsavers, and popular it is with the crowd, prompting arguably the biggest response of the night.

As Brits we are well versed in the centuries-old custom of queuing, but after the band’s set I accompany one of my gig buddies for the night, a non-Brit, in casually waiting at the side for the long queue to disappear before approaching Lanegan, by now resembling the beanie-hatted Jimbo Jones with added thick-rimmed glasses, to congratulate him on the performance and to have some merch signed. I had been a little mystified earlier in the evening by the seemingly extortionate pricing policy of the Lanegan merch (as an example, at £25 Phantom Radio on vinyl is sold at Lanegan shows for around a tenner more than at some of the popular online shopping sites), but the success of the post-show merch-signing is impressive and shows Lanegan to be an astute businessman to complement his other, more obvious and artistic talents.

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Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.