for David Wechsler
We begin at the end, with two encores, one from Mark Lanegan’s recent Blues Funeral European tour, the other from a walk-on appearance during the Twilight Singers’ 2006 Powder Burns U.S. tour. We move on to a blues-heavy covers album, then a television broadcast, then an older album, then an older concert. Neil Young once sang, you know how time fades away; sometimes it even fades backwards.
Eight nights into a European tour that began somewhere called Rockerfeller in Oslo and will end somewhere else called Sala Bikini in Barcelona, he’s wrapping up an intense, mostly wordless-except-the-music evening (he rarely talks between songs; even when he introduces the rest of the band, you can barely hear him or make out anyone’s name) before a Monday-night concert hall full of blokes, few of whom would remember him as a Screaming Tree or a Queen of the Stone Age, never mind a Soulsaver, most of whom either know him as a Gutter Twin and occasional Twilight Singer — same difference; both involve Greg Dulli and a rotating band — the other half of an Isobel Campbell duet, or the man behind what’s eponymously known these days as the Mark Lanegan Band.
Someone would refer to him as “the king of bleak” in The Guardian a week later, but two songs into the encore we can only hear the echoey wall of guitars of Unforgettable Fire-era U2, his gruff, husky Tom-Waits-as-crooner voice (the same rock critic will call it a “deathly growl”) almost bouncy, as if he were rewriting “A Tisket, A Tasket” with new words like “they’re riding, they’re riding / a hellhound down the hill, / they’re sinking, they’re sinking / into the ocean, beautiful and still,” eyes barely open as he winces, his black mane flowing, mane and mic, t-shirt and tunic and trousers wrapping him in black like a rugged Snape from Harry Potter, or an even more rugged Neil Young.
Other words, phrases used to describe Mark Lanegan or his music: stark, dark, dense, dirgelike, brooding, narcotic, bare his soul, demons, densely beautiful, the Dark Side, soul-tormenting despair, junkyard ambience, the perpetual night of gloom, a dark old record, drenched in melancholy, damaged grandeur. Even the majority of his album titles border on the macabre: The Winding Sheet, Whiskey for the Holy Ghost, Scraps at Midnight, Blues Funeral. “He’s dressed like night and his eyes are mean,” wrote New Musical Express in 1998, when Lanegan was a mere 33 — perhaps meaning that 14 years later he would be here, wearing black, eyes narrowed, every troubled memory of walking past an old rehab in Seattle a dart in the otherwise bouncy melody. But the words and the way he delivers them work with the music as much as they oppose it, the same way “I saw a young girl who didn’t die” in Neil Young’s woeful, barely-post-Cobain “A Dream That Can Last” means both a young girl who died and a young girl who didn’t....read more