REVIEW: Mark Lanegan, The Sage, Gateshead

Mark Lanegan
Mark Lanegan

It’s little over a year since Mark Lanegan appeared at Riverside - yet those who spent an evening with the Seattle legend at The Sage experienced anything but a repeat.

Whereas last January’s crowd was treated to a full-band bonanza, Saturday’s show found the 51-year-old and his music stripped bare; a stark reduction played out before the intimacy of a packed Hall 2 audience.

In a low-key setup, Dark Mark arrived backed solely by regular guitarist Jeff Fielder and collaborator Duke Garwood (who’d opened proceedings with a set of his own), and in many ways the stage belonged to them as much as the brooding vocalist.

Fielder, in particular, was afforded ample opportunity to shine, with his impressive repertoire of bluesy licks lending further life to the understated arrangements.

Of course, Lanegan’s whiskey-stained confessionals are more than equipped in their own right, and stood up both musically and lyrically to the scrutiny of a silent room.

Then there’s that voice - an iconic gift shaped by years of cigarette, drink and drug abuse, which continues to grow richer with age.

Normally with such naked renditions it’s a singer’s flaws which are exposed the most, but Lanegan, if anything, sounded enhanced, and seemingly revelled in baring each and every nuance and textural strand of his famous baritone.

And those desert-dry tones were applied to material from throughout his three-decade career, be it his acclaimed solo work, his formative years with cult grunge act Screaming Trees, or the healthy batch of covers and collaborative numbers thrown in for good measure.

This culminated in a long and varied range of standouts, from the distorted crunch of The Gravedigger’s Song to his the delightful version of Frank Sinatra’s Pretty Colors.

Never the most talkative of performers, Lanegan’s utterances were limited to the occasional gruff “thank you very much” and to introduce his bandmates in the briefest terms possible.

This meant that the songs came thick and fast, with a total of 21 chalked off in around an hour and 20 minutes.

And he signed off with the best of the lot – a marvellous extended version of Screaming Trees classic Halo of Ashes, which drew spontaneous cheers and a deserved standing ovation.