Mark Lanegan Band - Melkweg, Amsterdam, 17th August 2004

"Dark isn't the word for it. It scared the shit out of me!"


Some bands make an effort on stage. It's always great to see a band full of energy, leaping like salmon, beating guitars with sweaty hands and trashing drum kits. Some bands make up for their lack of energy with video backdrops, laser shows and mirror balls. Mark Lanegan doesn't. As far as visuals are concerned, let's just say that this show was minimal. Lights weren't top of the list for a start, tonight there were only three or four lights in total. Two green, a red and a couple of purple gels backlighting the band in dim, grim shadows and that was it. People in the crowd started holding their lighters aloft; not in a crass Bon Jovi singalong sense, but because it's bloody hard to find the bar when you can't see two feet in front of you.

 As far as stage presence goes, well, the band turned up. Lanegan himself did what he always has done, walked on stage, stood by his microphone and didn't move apart from to light another cigarette or to scuttle off into the darkness at the end. In a strange way, it actually helped to make the show more impressive. Standing in almost complete darkness, looking at a couple of dark figures on stage I imagined that the female backing singer was rather sexy, but I can't really be sure. It all seemed to add a sense of mystery. At first I thought that, perhaps Lanegan had just sent a lookalike on stage to cover for him and kept the lights down low so that nobody would notice, but then the dark figure opened its mouth and the voice grinding through the speakers was unmistakeably his.

 He's come a long way since the Screaming Trees broke up, and musically, his solo material is ten years of darkness further down the line. Tonight's set was basically a showcase for his latest album, the excellent Bubblegum. A dark, brooding yet ultimately uplifting album, I'd venture to say it's the best album he's released to date and after tonight's show I'm convinced of that. Live, this new material is amazing. Dark isn't the word for it. It scared the shit out of me!

 Methamphetamine blues, my favourite track from the album, was almost too much to handle. Its main beat sounded like some machine was trying to build a railroad through my head, BANG CRASH clatter BANG CRASH clatter and that was just the beginning. Two guitars strangled each other till they wailed for mercy. The bass guitar throbbed menacingly like approaching footsteps and the girl supplied backing vocals that were ethereal, like spirits crying out in the dark, coming at me from all sides, and there, in the centre of my head, was Lanegan's voice, the voice of reason, the voice of doom. I felt afraid. This was amazing.

There was no relief, the whole set seemed to start on the edge of an abyss and then pushed the audience over, into it, falling all the time until the last throes of Fix rang out, bringing us back to the edge, safe, unharmed. Like riding a roller coaster in utter darkness this was a thrilling, electrifying set, filled with moments of terror, dread and driven by a rush of adrenalin. Lanegan's not good for your nerves, but as his only story tells, if your demons lead you into dark places, returning from them unscathed is a wonderful, life affirming feeling. Tonight he took us on that journey and although the audience were a little overwhelmed at first, not a single one of them left the room disappointed. Fantastic, in a word.

Words: Damian Leslie

Illustration : Mark Frudd