Mark Lanegan brings his thrilling, terryfing vision to Boston
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
For more than 20 years, Mark Lanegan’s music has been able to deliver maximum emotion and pull from minimal arrangements. Live, the approach is not much different. Touring in support of his latest record, Blues Funeral, the singer walked on stage at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, bellowed out 90 minutes worth of songs, laid waste to the crowd and walked away.
Preceding his entrance was the hellishly heavy bass on “The Gravedigger’s Song,” but the man himself, tall and clad in black, was unlike any I’d seen in person. He walked in, grabbed the mic and began his low growl, sending shivers up spines throughout the packed room.
The setlist leaned heavily on Lanegan’s most recent work, tossing in two songs from Screaming Trees’ excavated final album, Last Words. But those kept with the pacing, with the band churning out Lanegan’s heavy, measured vision. He looked alternately furious or annoyed, tilting his head down between verses, occasionally twisting his face for a brief moment before giving the mic stand a little tug. Showmanship, in that exaggerated Steven Tyler fashion, is not his game. Instead, that stillness makes every move all the more meaningful, leaving the impression that he might just spin out and explode at any moment.
The entire presentation can be terrifying. He’s not chatty, either. After six songs, he gave the audience a low, quick acknowledgement: “Thanks very much.” A few songs later, he introduced the band in a low rumble. Occasionally, he’d glare in the direction of an errant camera flash.
That sensibility, of course, matches the music. Lanegan has become something of a Howlin’ Wolf for our times, the tall, dark stranger with the whiskey-soaked voice singing songs of loss and despair with an ever-present hint of hope. Live, he’s more this guy than he is on vinyl. He gives off an almost evil vibe.
An entire evening of menacing, albeit restrained, songs came to a thrashing conclusion at the end of the encore, thanks to “Methamphetamine Blues.” Guitars scorched, the bass rattled and the drums were relentless in their robotic pace. And Lanegan, rolling ‘til he keeps on rolling, all grimace and glare, was otherworldly. The previous look of quiet discomfort that had colored each song had transformed into pure focus and determination. The bottom rumble was gone; in its place was doom.
I watched that band destroy that song and that room with my jaw hanging slack. I was terrified. I started to smile. This was a thrill unlike any I’d ever experienced before. The entire night, already one of the better concerts I’ve attended in my time, had flown into this devastating conclusion. This was not merely a great band playing a great song, this was a violent act, one carried out with maniacal precision.
When it crashed down, Lanegan waved to the crowd, gave a simple, “We’re done,” and stalked backstage. After the show, it was announced that Lanegan would be by the merchandise table signing autographs.
I couldn’t bring myself to stay and look the man in the eye. Beyond nerves, I was afraid my face would melt.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org