The Lemon Tree, one of Aberdeen’s most notable venues, was home to Mark Lanegan for the night. The venue, prestigious amongst local bands lucky enough to play there, also plays host to many medium sized acts, and some big ones, too.
First support act, Lyenn, began proceedings slow and haunting, just him and his guitar. Following that he built a desolate soundscape. A tad busier on the third, though. There was slightly more melody, too. His vocals were more elaborate, more diverse than merely for ambience purposes. It soared with seemingly genuine pain.
He then put down the guitar, in favour of what appeared to be a bouzouki. There was then an atmosphere of a different sense, rich rather than desolate. It seemed to despair at a cruel, cruel world. He then went back to the guitar, which was really busy, yet with muted picking. It was like an acoustic hard rock and heavy metal groover, his vocals androgynous.
Soaring yet despairing vocals bubbled to the surface, amidst bold, yet understated, verses in the next one. Vocals reminded one of Thom Yorke of Radiohead fame. Wails, super high, turned into screams. Some good dynamics as he broke away from the histrionics for a muted verse.
Duke Garwood was the following support act and, again, he was very much in the ‘man and his guitar’ format. Or semi-acoustic, rather. Anyway, how things started was brooding and spaced out. This was like, ironically enough, given the due headliner’s past involvement with Queens Of The Stone Age, a refrain from a Kyuss track. It was desert music, desolate blues. Only occasional ringing chords suggested an amplification of matters. It kept the attention of spectators despite this never quite happening.
His second effort was more melodic than ambient. Hopeful blues, but still the blues. What came next was very much in the same vein. The guitar, though, a bit more busy. There was also occasional slide guitar-esque feedback, pricking the ears and curiosity of the listener.
Moving on, atmospheric guitar filled out his sound, a stab at the one man band. It was like the sound of the tumbling seas. Vocals, for the next song, punctuated his guitar lines, as the teller weaved his story. Noodling, after the story, built into feedback before the vocals began. Sparse guitar, like that story, was punctuated by the vocals.
He then began winding down his set with something that started out moody, the vocals complementing it. That Kyuss vibe, ringing notes and brooding, creeped back. The closer itself was melodic blues, though with ambient aspects, too. There was also a variation between fingerpicking, and that of the plectrum. It was a spectacle to watch his technique.
Come time, the setup for Mark Lanegan was vocals, the man himself; two guitarists and a bassist. Note lack of drummer, done so seemingly deliberately. The opener was ponderous and dark, just vocals and the two guitars.
The next was more upbeat, yet still sad. A sliding bassline was quite busy, but not interfering with, “can’t get it down without crying”.
The aforementioned dynamics, of being without drums, were handled expertly by the band. The bass punctuated the guitar chords, sliding occasionally. There was satisfying guitar playing the vocal melody. Chris Rea seemed to be evoked with the vocal delivery of the subsequent, almost spoken word blues. The song seemed to convey the barren, though with a glint of hope, like with, “my love is no living thing”.
A rough rocker followed. Drums, although largely handling a lack of them well, would’ve made this a stomping number. It didn’t quite reach those potential heights. Earnest and searching guitar followed, perhaps erasing the anti-climax of the previous. This was joined by vocals, equally yearning for piece of mind.
Sparse but triumphant guitar in the next, with that lick, was joined by, “pray don’t send me back again”. A following tale tinged with sadness, in turn, was joined by, “walking on holy ground”. After this was an ascending, then descending, bassline underpinning a track that ever so slightly swung with, “I’ll take care of you”.
Proceedings got a touch more raucous than even the loudest effort prior. It grooved and even worked quite well without drums. You wondered the potential, though, to be still greater. The volume went right down for the vocals to breathe, displaying some excellent dynamics.
After a tough one to top, there was the self-deprecating and mournful, “I’m going nowhere”, as in life. The backing vocals added “n’s” for start of “no, I’m going nowhere”. This was followed by the thematically slightly brighter, jangly chords, building a different atmosphere. However, the vocals waxed lyrical about the life of the blues, saying, “judgement time is near”. Chugging, slow and with the finality, and thud, of death seemed to build upon the aforementioned. Ringing feedback seemed to highlight the tragedy of the track. The guitar solo was sparse, yet mournful.
Things did, eventually, get a tad more hopeful. The message, though, was perhaps that happiness is not necessarily assured. A guitar interlude was interesting, like an aside to the song proper, which in turn maybe conveyed welcome distractions in life, like with, “make one dream come true, you only live twice”.
Choppy strumming heralded a change in direction. Lanegan’s vocals rose, climbing higher than his usual fare from how the night had turned out so far. Stomping feet and clapping hands afterwards urged an encore. They came back, sans bass guitar in favour of miracas. This was a jarring effort, and a touch melancholic. It was like a journey in search of answers to life’s questions.
Encore number two was brooding and moody, ringing and cutting guitar added to the picture. The fadeout rounded off things nicely. Nice was what followed, too. This whimsical guitar kicked off proceedings. There was a devil may care attitude, Lanegan going to hell but simply not caring.
The end of all things came, and not courtesy of Lucifer. The guitar built up to a satisfying crescendo, and, again, evocations of the desert came to the fore, rearing its head like a sand based, sneak attack predator. It was ambient, yet also yearning. The guitar was full on and intense. This, despite the internal debate all night, worked quite well without the drums, too. A chordal solo worked a treat with the crowd. Explosive stuff before the vocals came back in, and the song itself ended.
You can buy Mark Lanegan’s latest effort, 2014’s Phantom Radio on iTunes. You can also buy his collaborative album with Duke Garwood, Black Pudding on iTunes.
Keep tabs on Mark Lanegan on Facebook, Twitter and on his website.
Words by Andrew Watson