Lord, oh lord, can Mark Lanegan sing. Last night’s Gutter Twins performance at the Ambassador ranks as one of the finest gigs I’ve watched in the past couple of years.
Stage dimly lit — just blue and red rays of light criss-crossing occasionally. GT’s Greg Dulli and Lanegan centre stage, backed by five (yep, count ’em, five — no expenses spared; thank god for musicians who’ll stump up for touring members) virtuoso players from London to Texas.
Lanegan holding the same almost indecently cool pose almost throughout, one hand on the mic, the other on the mic stand, face scrunched up, like an indie rock Kevin Bacon. (Even the male punters looked a bit awed; “Could Lanegan be any cooler?” the guy behind me whispered to his friend).
And then Lanegan’s changeling voice — like it had arrived direct from the bowels of hell. Gritty, raw, real; this man sings, you believe it.
I’ve liked Lanegan awhile — loved some of his work with Screaming Trees, liked his solo album Bubblegum a lot, and of course his Queens of the Stone Age material — but I did have reservations about him. On record, Lanegan has a tendency to give you that driving, inexorable sense (courtesy of that gravel voice and the guitars) of doomy weirdness that sounds bloody brilliant for the first two-thirds of the song, but the songs themselves often don’t build to a satisfying enough close — Lanegan gets you excited, but he doesn’t always deliver.
But Dulli, standing beside him, wielding his guitar and singing — changes all that. Dulli will do the Pop Idol falsettos, he’ll do the shimmering material — the lighter melodic stuff — that Lanegan might naturally veer away from. Dulli is the perfect foil for Lanegan; both enhance the other’s best qualities.
Watching the gig last night, I thought of Tom Waits. I thought of Nick Cave striding around the stage singing ‘Red Right Hand’ like he was going to reach into the crowd and rip your head off. And I thought of Battles playing ‘Atlas’ at Tripod last year. Yep, The Gutter Twins were that good.
Side-notes: spotted Graham Boss Volenti in the crowd, head nodding enthusiastically. And the crowd themselves were brilliant — so into it and up for it. When they came back for the encore, Dulli leans into the microphone and says, “We played LA a few days ago and we didn’t play them an encore… because they were bitches. But you guys…we’re going to keep playing.”
Anyhow, enough from me. I’m off to buy Saturnalia.
PS Here they are on David Letterman..