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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Live Review, 5/23/12: Mark Lanegan Croons the Great American Into Sad Submission

Posted By on Thu, May 24, 2012 at 8:25 AM

Mark Lanegan at Great American Music Hall last night. - BRI DE LIBERTIS
  • Bri De Libertis
  • Mark Lanegan at Great American Music Hall last night.

Mark Lanegan Band
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Great American Music Hall

Better than:
Staying at home and thinking about death.

Mark Lanegan plays in the dark. Literally. A blue light here, a red one there, and zero variables. All you can really make out is his pronounced frown, gigantic jawline, and the shiny Johnny Cash pompadour of his guitarist. It's only appropriate really -- the Mark Lanegan Band is the sound of brooding desolation, of loves lost and lonely roads and longing. The illuminating flashes of light in the set are few and far between, usually coming in the form of soaring country and blues-tinged guitar solos. Make no mistake, it is all very gorgeous -- but it's not necessarily great at holding one's attention for an entire show, especially in a room kept so dark.

  • Bri De Libertis

We should mention at this juncture that Lanegan's latest album is titled Blues Funeral (upbeat as ever!) and the album's lead single -- "The Gravedigger's Song," used to open the set tonight -- serves as a perfect tone-setter for the entire evening: You know, misery and torture and whatnot.

There are brief respites from the pain early on -- "Sleep With Me" is irresistibly sultry, "Hit the City" prompts the woman next to us to yell "Wow!" a lot, and by the time "Wedding Dress" is halfway through, the same fan is making actual sex noises. Loudly. The rest of the women in the room may not be as vocal as that lady, but truly, Lanegan's mysterious and ultra-masculine delivery could seduce a nun.

When Lanegan hits his optimum tone, it is heart-wrenching and engrossing, like on the devastating and haunting "One Hundred Days," and the whiskey-soaked wilderness of "One Way Street." But there are missteps too: "Ode To Sad Disco" plods along at best; mostly, it just feels like dragging heels.

  • Bri De Libertis

The truly rockin' moments tonight are rare but valuable -- "Quiver Syndrome," mid-set, provides one of the few, with its faster pace and "Sympathy For The Devil"-esque ooh-oohs. And, later on, a super-heavy, somewhat industrial rendition of "Methamphetamine Blues" shakes the room. But even great moments like these don't drag us out of the drowsy funk the Lanegan Band spend most of the night dragging us into.

While Lanegan's distinctive baritone is a joy to behold in a live setting, it isn't enough to keep us completely enthralled all night. Ultimately, the unchanging pace of the set, the lack of interaction from the band, and -- oh yes, that perpetual darkness -- feel, by the time midnight rolls around, more like a shot of morphine than a shot of adrenaline.

Critic's Notebook

Actual Conversation With Fellow Gig Goer:
Her: "He's like a watered down Tom Waits..."
Me: "No he isn't! Tom Waits' voice is like dragging your face against gravel! I want Mark Lanegan to sing me to sleep!"
Her: "Yeah? Well, he sang me to sleep thirty minutes ago..."

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