Mark Lanegan – Live at the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Monday 4th November 2013

MarkLanegan6 It seems like it was only a few months ago that I went to see Mark Lanegan play with a full band at the Picture House, but in actual fact it turns out it was last August. I’m not a rabid fan of his by any means, but I really enjoy his stuff, and he’s one of my favourite live performers so fuck it, why not go again.

Besides, this show being in the Queen’s Hall promised something rather different to the Picture House gig. That one was hardly a searing wall of noise, more music with a nasty scowl, but it was performed with a traditional band setup – guitar, bass, drums, etc. – whereas I suspected the choice of venue implied that this might be a little different, and I was right.

The setup this time around was guitar and bass, with cello and violin and a fellow playing a member of the saxophone family so teeny-tiny it sounded a little like woodwind. There was an extra guitar for the saxophonist to play occasionally, but you get the picture. It was all very minimal. And really, really fucking good.

Tunes like Gravedigger’s Song, one of the more raucous numbers from Blues Funeral, were rejigged to suit this lineup and sounded absolutely great for it. A lot of Lanegan’s songs suit this kind of environment anyway, and the strings brought out their warmer side, perhaps losing some of the inherent menace of the traditional band delivery. That’s no bad thing of course – I mean, the man doesn’t have to seem like he’s trying to terrify us all the time does he? – and actually seeing a softer version of some of this material made a rather lovely counterpoint to the simmering delivery we’re more commonly used to.

The oddest moment of the night, for me, was when Lanegan detoured into his recent covers album, Imitations. I had completely forgotten that it existed (partly because I ordered it only a month ago and it still ain’t here, so I haven’t had the chance to listen to it yet) and hearing him suddenly break into Mac the Knife followed by, of all things, You Only Live Twice almost gave the evening the feel of a late-night cabaret. It felt, I suppose, a bit like a Christmas Party, and I actually don’t think that’s any bad thing.

I suppose you could accuse this of being a hint of a transition from rock star to crooner – the blandificiation of music which once had teeth, in the way that Elvis Costello embraced Burt fucking Bacharach – but I don’t really get the impression that Lanegan is the type, honestly. I don’t know him, of course, so it’s not really my place to say, but I can’t imagine him sanding off his rough edges or tempering the fire too much, but for one night and a whole new feel to his repertoire, this was an absolutely gorgeous evening of music.