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LIVE REPORT: Mark Lanegan
Cian Traynor , November 11th, 2013 07:33

Cian Traynor stops by Mark Lanegan's sold-out stop at The Sugar Club in Dublin

There’s a commanding quality to Mark Lanegean’s stage presence: the scarecrow-like figure dressed in shades of grey and black; a tassel of hair obscuring his right eye; face narrowed into a grimace as his tattooed hands clasp the mic stand, pulling back on it as if steering the stage with a giant lever.

The former Screaming Trees singer has always been relatively prolific but over the last 18 months or so, Lanegan has released three albums, a Christmas EP and a series of collaborations.

Tonight, for the second of two sold-out shows at The Sugar Club in Dublin, the set begins with five songs from Black Pudding, Lanegan’s recent LP with multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood.

Though opener ‘War Memorial’ feels somewhat muffled and tenuous, the dynamic quickly reaches the right amount of fullness, warming to spare arrangements that are kept dark and dirty. It helps that these dirge-like songs are shortened, pared back to little more than a couple of verses, giving the set a propulsive momentum.

There are no drums, there is no talking between songs and the room, with its crowded tiers of velvet seating bathed in amber light, remains captivated.

Six songs in, the set begins to drift further afield with ‘When Your Number Isn't Up’ from 2004’s Bubblegum, Christmas ballad ‘The Cherry-Tree Carol’, ‘One Way Street’ from 2001’s Field Songs and ‘The Gravedigger's Song’ from last year’s acclaimed Blues Funeral.

At this point, the restraint applied to the Americana-tinged Black Pudding material has loosened, bleeding into an abrasiveness that overpowers the mixing levels. The guitar is being thrashed at, the clarinet is lost in the mix and the lyrics are difficult to parse.

Thankfully, any unevenness is short-lived. Following a roar of applause, Lanegan breaks his between-song silence to introduce his five bandmates with a mumble as they prepare to shift the flow once again, this time rolling into a run of songs from Lanegan’s new cover album, Imitations.

For the next 15 minutes or so, the singer’s dry croak seems to deepen with every song, drawing out a gothic darkness one wouldn’t normally associate with the work of Frank Sinatra and Neil Sedaka. It’s also a chance for Lanegan’s string accompaniment (cello and violin) to come into its own, illuminating the signature two-bar theme of ‘You Only Live Twice’ and lifting up ‘Satellite Of Love’, an unspoken tribute to the late Lou Reed.

As the final notes of The Sunset Travelers’ ‘On Jesus' Program’ fade out, Lanegan coughs a gruff thanks and walks off, eventually returning with just his lead guitarist for a two-song encore of ‘Bombed’ from Bubblegum followed by the Screaming Trees’ ‘Halo of Ashes’.

Midway through a rousing guitar solo that feels somewhat out of step with the rest of the gig, Lanegan takes a moment to sit down and catch some breath, hanging his head and clutching a towel.

When the singer returns to the mic stand, he takes hold of it as if to steer us back to the right balance: minimal but mesmeric, naked but barbed.

It’s a fitting end to an intimate evening, although perhaps not the set you’d expect from someone with almost 30 years’ worth of material to dip into. But with an anthology due out in January, next year is likely to provide ample opportunity to revisit the back catalogue.

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