Live review: Mark Lanegan at The Union Chapel, London, 3.5.

6/10

Mark Lanegan, Duke Garwood and co. proved a few things on their night of low-key blues music in Islington, most notably that it is certainly possible to have too much of a good thing. 

The Union Chapel in Islington boasts a wide variety of gigs and concerts, with fans of Schubert, John Coltrane and Bat For Lashes catered for. It was an odd sensation, to sit still in pews while a heavily amplified blues rock singer stared you down and sang their songs at you; it was never uncomfortable, but a little surreal, as though we were watching something we weren’t meant to be.

Lanegan is a figure with an illustrious history and a voice worn by time – known partly for his work with Kurt Cobain and Queens of the Stone Age, but probably better for his story-telling ability and tired rasp of a voice, he’s one of those artists that collects respect like it’s going out of fashion. He certainly had that presence when strolling on-stage, with a piercing stare looking much further than the walls of the chapel.

Frustratingly, for a man that has played with so many artists, in a venue that hosts such an array of musicians, Lanegan barely strayed out of his front yard when it came to musical exploration. It didn’t help that both support acts were members of his backing band – having a softly-spoken male alt rock singer be preceded by two softly-spoken male alt rock singers was always going to give a repetitive air to proceedings.

The band itself consisted of two guitars and bass, meaning that any chance of a lift in tempo was snuffed out by the lack of percussive accompaniment. While die-hard fans would possibly have rejoiced in the recital of old favourites from Lanegan’s extensive back-catalogue (the music of Screaming Trees in particular got some welcome air-time), the neutral listener could have been left drowsier than after a righteous, damning sermon. Each song that came and went had its own merit, but its similarity to the song that came before meant it all became a muddy, sleepy blur.

Lanegan’s performance was in no way below-par: his voice rumbled and growled like a snoring beast, and a brief relief came with a light rendition of ‘Mack The Knife’ that roused the troops to something approaching amusement. Yet with almost no audience interaction from all three acts, it felt like a procession of the same formula for 3 hours straight.

It’s not a criticism of the music itself – anything can become tiresome after 3 hours. With perkier, poppier support, Mark Lanegan might not have to quicken his pace to keep up with the demands of his followers, but he could do much worse than changing the record once in a while.


Photos: Roosa Päivänsalo