Mark Lanegan @ The Institute, Birmingham – Saturday 2nd November 2013

Mark Lanegan @ The Institute, Birmingham – Saturday 2nd November 2013

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It isn’t often that you see rows of seats at the Institute, but they are filling up fast for so early on a Saturday evening. The first support act is Lyenn, a musician based in Brussels and New York who creates thoughtful and sparse music swapping between an acoustic guitar and a mandolin. His vocal range is high and is reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, clearly exhibiting pain with an edgy, coarse quality. Much of the audience are focussed on the slow paced music of this songwriter, however the minimal musical movement does mean that you can hear people ordering drinks at the bar which rather disturbs the mood. At the gig, I was uncertain how much interest I had for Lyenn, however, listening to his music on Soundcloud I am gaining an increased appreciation for his work and will certainly be checking out other tracks.

The next support act is no surprise as Duke Garwood has collaborated with Mark Lanegan on the recent album Black Pudding and played guitar on Blues Funeral, furthermore he is known as Mark Lanegan’s “spiritual cousin across the Atlantic waters”. Garwood is the perfect support for Mark Lanegan. He plays guitar with such sensitivity, using dynamics with complete consideration that demonstrates his natural aptitude for music, feeling his way through the set easing it into different moods with the addition of his smooth vocals. Duke Garwood swaps guitars, noting that the guitar stands were left in Brussels, and proceeds with his unusual playing style which sees him pluck and strum the strings up the fretboard in a similar style to Josh T Pearson, which adds a further dynamic element to his sound. Being stood fairly near the back, we are offered the option of sitting on the balcony and what a difference it makes; the sound quality improves ten-fold allowing you to become absorbed in the music. He finishes his set with Manchester Special commenting that he can play it better when it is warmer, which the audience empathise with as the venue is incredibly cold, yet the track seems amazing to me.

Mark Lanegan strolls to the front of the stage with five other accompanying musicians, including both of the support acts with Garwood interchanging between bass clarinet and guitar whilst Lyenn also plays bass. The whole platform is bathed in red light as Lanegan grasps his microphone stand and releases his unique baritone vocals throughout the venue with the beautiful War Memorial followed by Mescalito, both taken from Black Pudding. Interestingly, this tour has been advertised as Mark Lanegan with Duke Garwood which I assumed meant that it would only be the two musicians, as Lanegan has experimented with in the past, however the additional players add an extra layer to the music, not by over complicating the tracks but carefully using space and exploring harmonies through the different instruments. Cold Molly sees the string players take up the maracas again and this is where you wish Lanegan had taken on a dedicated percussionist as occasionally their timing starts to drift in contrast to the other musicians, however as the set continues they play percussion so rarely it probably wouldn’t be financially feasible to bring one on tour. Before embarking on a number of covers, the band play The Gravedigger’s Song, using the violin and cello to add a different accent to the rhythm whilst providing an Eastern European taint to the song which adds a further dimension to an electric track.

The band tend to watch the guitarist Jeff Fielder for direction, as Lanegan taps his foot and sways minimally focusing wholeheartedly on his words. The whole audience are engrossed in the performance as Mark Lanegan moves into a segment of covers, predominantly from his latest album Imitations that sees him pay respect to a selection of influential easy listening numbers and artists. Starting with a song from another collaboration Lanegan delivers Can’t Catch the Train by Soulsavers followed by Sinatra’s Pretty Colors and an exposed Mack the Knife which establishes the mesmerising and emotive nature of his voice. Whilst listening to these well executed cover versions, Lanegan transports you to a dingy Parisian bar, forty years ago, with wine flowing and cigarettes smouldering as that is the environment which is most suited to this performance. In honour of the recent loss of Lou Reed, Lanegan and Garwood undertake duel vocals Satellite of Love with sensitivity and tenderness that is appreciated by the crowd. After Autumn Leaves, the set returns to Lanegan’s own compositions with the thought provoking One Hundred Days and the lyrically profound Mirrored. His inimitable use of lyrics combined with his gravelly tones are what makes Lanegan’s work so beautiful; conjuring up images with words whilst subtly changing moods with his musical compositions.

The main set concludes with On Jesus’ Program to grateful applause, with comments praising what has gone before. The encore consists of only two songs but both are phenomenal. Bombed’s darkness infiltrates every possible area of the Institute, whilst Halo of Ashes, by Lanegan’s former band Screaming Trees, sees Fielder’s guitar ability truly shine. Fielder’s introduction to the song doesn’t allow anyone to guess the track until the riff kicks in and Lanegan’s vocals continue to reign supreme. The duet leads to an amazing solo that sees Mark take a seat as Fielder has the room transfixed with his talent, frenetically building and then calmly dropping back to allow the vocals to return. An utterly jaw-dropping finale. Throughout the set, Lanegan speaks very little other than to introduce the band and to thanks us for showing our appreciation however, you get a sense that he is far more content with this line-up than the electric collective he used for the previous tour. Furthermore, you are left wishing he would play all night and with such a vast back catalogue he probably could but therein lies the genius, always leave the audience wanting more. I truly believe Mark Lanegan is one of the greatest vocalists around and his live performance never fails to exceed expectations irrespective of the band set up and musicians he surrounds himself with.

Review by Toni Woodward

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