Mark Lanegan @ Manchester Cathedral
Pain pocked poetry in the House of God
Words: Phil Weller
The lights dim and a singular silence falls alongside them around the Cathedral. After a few seconds, the sound of several beer cans crackling open throughout the echoic, archaic building puncture the silence and a gracious applause rises from the hush. Mark Lanegan, dressed entirely in funeral black, a jacket draped over his staunch shoulders, makes his way onto the stage and, without breathing a word, his band chime into the opening bars of When Your Number Isn’t Up.
Before the solely backlit stage the gravelly voiced songsmith casts an eerie silhouette, the venue’s rich natural reverb icing his words. “When the sun is finally going down, and you're overdue to follow/But you're still above the ground/What ya got comin’ is hard to swallow,” he sings, that infamously croaky tone cascading and dancing in faint blue light. It all draws attention away from his face, away from who he is, and shines a blinding spotlight on what he has to say, on his art.
Across a 24 song strong set list he barely moves, barely acknowledges the crowd. But that’s not ignorance or pompousness driving his actions like a loyal chauffeur. You get the feeling that his music, his lyrics – the pain pocked poetry which he delivers, sermon like tonight – is his catharsis, nothing else.
Mirrored is vulnerable, fragile and prophetic, Gravediggers Song, with no drummer present tonight, is given a more naked but ultimately evocative rendition.
"The honesty with which he sings has you mirroring his rhythms and intonation upon your own heart strings"
As he croons through The Wild People – stripped of its usual ambient and orchestral dressage – brings with it an icy breezy that sees the hairs on your neck stand on end. As the final dying embers of the song expire, Lanegan looks away from his audience almost apologetically. His silence in-between songs, you feel, is not because he isn't thankful of people spending their hard earned money to be graced with his presence – but singing these songs is his form of escapism, of freeing himself from the burdening, choking shackles of life. As if he has to sing these words over mournful guitars to calm his restless, aching soul.
Tonight is an open door into his soul. A selection of covers taken from his Imitations album – from a haunting take of Brook Benton’s I’ll Take Care of You to Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice, here cloaked in his own hoarse individualism – voice such a soul even further. The honesty with which he sings has you mirroring his rhythms and intonation upon your own heart strings: “I know you've been hurt by someone else/I can tell by the way you carry yourself/But if you'll let me, here's what I'll do/I'll take care of you.” Even when they aren't his own words, he stands by them with a moving, personal affliction.
The Eastern spices of Halo Of Ashes – a song from his time in Screaming Trees where it all began – closes the night in a gorgeous fashion. But not before the 51 year old Washington born singer thoughtfully urges the crowd to make some donations to the Cathedral and “help fix the broken roof of this beautiful building”.
His eyes look skywards and, just like the “spectre” on the wind” he is about to sing about, the troubadour disappears.
Until next time.