Well well, quite a few firsts for me last night at the Picture House. Not serious ones, but well, nevertheless… I hadn’t seen Mark Lanegan solo before (although I have seen him play a gig with Isobel Campbell at the Liquid Rooms a good few years ago now), I hadn’t been to a big, shiny, legit gig in a while either, and I had never been to the Picture House at all, not even once.
I’ve scorned the place a little actually, because their booking is generally pretty terrible – as far as my taste is concerned anyway – but it was a really good place. Nice grandiose ex-cinema curtains, a dramatically high ceiling, and a sound system which, whilst it was suspiciously quiet on the night, seems like it would be capable of a lot more if asked.
That kind of restrained grandeur suited the restrained malevolence of Lanegan’s delivery too, which made for a great atmosphere. If I had a criticism, however, it would be related to these facts, however: it was perhaps a little too quiet, in terms of the actual volume of the speakers, it was a little too restrained and if anything I would suggest that it was actually too accomplished.
That may sound like a weird criticism, but the snarl which makes Lanegan’s music so brilliant wasn’t quite as much in evidence, and a little more malice and a few more ragged edges would have made a bloody good night into an absolutely incredible one, if you ask me.
I also have to confess that I don’t know Lanegan’s canon all that well, either. I never listened to the Screaming Trees, I don’t really like the Twilight Singers and his collaborative albums with Isobel Campbell have been highly patchy. What I was there for was the stuff from the absolutely outstanding 2004 album Bubblegum, recent corker Blues Funeral and, to a slightly lesser extent because I am less familiar with the album, The Winding Sheet.
It was a simple enough band setup, which I always appreciate, as opposed to some of the unwieldy personnel overloads some bands take on the road with them to play larger venues, and the arrangements and performance of the songs were unfussy, unpretentious and to the point. There wasn’t much chat, but nor was there much poncing about or showboating either, and I have to confess I rather liked that.
Tracks like the brooding Wedding Dress were absolutely brilliant, and so was the fantastic Methamphetamine Blues, two favourites which should tell you all you need to know about where my preferences lie with regard to the albums the band have released. I loved pretty much all of this though, it was controlled and confident, sneering and malevolent, and bloody great. If they’d cranked it up to the point where the wheels seemed a little closer to coming off then it might perhaps have improved it, but then again I am not sure that kind of frayed edge would quite have suited the glowering swagger of Lanegan himself.