Mark Lanegan's deafening roar takes center stage in Boston
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The stage at Royale in Boston didn’t have a typical rock set up. In place of the drum risers and amps and boards and perhaps even a backdrop were two microphone stands, a guitar amp, one chair in the back and a sound engineer stationed at a mixing board to the far right.
From that center microphone, Mark Lanegan stood as comfortably and uncomfortably as he ever has, pouring himself into each song, old and new, covers and originals, and delivered as stirring a performance as could be thinkable.
Lanegan and guitarist Jeff Fielder stripped down the catalog to just a Les Paul Jr. running through an amp and, of course, Lanegan’s voice, that dusty relic that seems to conjure up dark spirits of muddy banks and long-forgotten souls. The two took the screaming electricity of “The Gravedigger’s Song,” from 2012’s Blues Funeral, and pared it back to it’s terrifying essence. They also worked the Screaming Trees classic “Where the Twain Shall Meet” and traded in its classic rock guitars for a roadhouse-like performance, with Lanegan again pulling the heavy weight.
This was a theme that repeated throughout the night, with Lanegan simply wowing the crowd with the understated delivery of his unmatched voice. The way Lanegan presents himself on stage — dark pants, unbuttoned work shirt over a t-shirt, boots, hair swept across his face — belies the unbreaking energy coming from the man. For most of the night, he is near absolute in his stillness, save for the occasional gripping of the stand or a slight nod of his head during the instrumental passages. But he is absolutely magnetic; his seeming lack of stage presence creates one of the greatest commands of the stage possible.
And his mastery of the songs is still incredible. The way he suspended the drama of “Resurrection Song,” with the last note of each line lingering in the air before the next began, left the crowd completely still and enraptured. The ambient noise that almost always accounts for part of the concert experience was almost completely absent as Lanegan sang these songs with such spiritual delivery.
The theme of spirituality was present throughout the set, too. The biblical “The Cherry Tree Carol” was the second song of the night, and a good chunk of the set was dedicated to off-path covers that make up his latest record, Imitations. Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” and Frank’s “Autumn Leaves” were given the kind of expert treatment that would be expected of those well-traveled crooners of the 1950s and ‘60s, except that that expertise was mixed with Lanegan’s own sense of timing and style.
But the show reached a climax on another old tune that appeared on his first cover project, 1999’s I’ll Take Care of You. Here, that low, ragged tone that made “One Way Street” and “Don’t Forget Me” so unforgettable was swapped out for a howl on the spiritual “On Jesus’ Program” that rose as the gospel song’s message intensified. With Fielder’s guitar ringing, Lanegan traded the muted delivery for a deafening roar he’d sung of earlier in the night to bring the crowd to a stunned silence. It was a musician in full command of his abilities and operating on pure artistic will.
It was a thrilling testament to the power of his voice, that he could carry an entire show based solely on the ferocious pull of his instrument backed only by one guitar, on a stage unadorned save for two microphone stands and one guitar amp pushed to the back. After “On Jesus’ Program,” he walked off, came back for a short encore that capped with “Halo of Ashes,” the opening track from Screaming Trees’ final album Dust. There, Fielder got a chance at the spotlight, with some White Summer-esque riffing before Lanegan, who simply walked to the back of the stage to sit while Fielder played, stepped back to the microphone for a final rush and goodbye. He even smiled as he thanked the crowd.
And as unassumingly as he’d taken the stage, he quickly waved, picked up a towel and walked off, leaving the stage in the same physical state in which he’d found it. He’d overpowered the crowd, though, and left them back into the night.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org