For most music writers, reviewing what you love is more difficult than tearing into what you hate. Fact. So coming up with enough complimentary adjectives to detail the most recent Dublin show by the always bankable Mark Lanegan is indeed a quandary. While Lanegan’s performances are forever an occasion to look forward to, he occupies a strange place where you don’t get that sense of nervous anticipation of -will it be any good?’ because nine times out of 10 he delivers.
With the sounds of Idlewild thumping away in the superior upstairs venue, the basement enclave of the Academy 2 is jammed to the rafters despite this being possibly the least publicised show this year. When the man himself emerges from the darkness and breaks the pent-up silence with the first lines of Bubblegum’s -When Your Number Isn’t Up’, you can almost hear an audible sigh from the throng. Chilled out and properly low-key compared to Lanegan’s last stop-off in Dublin with the Gutter Twins (where Greg Dulli berated audience members and generally came across like an arrogant twat), tonight the former Screaming Trees/QOTSA/insert-name-of-multiple-side-acts-here singer is joined only by Dave Rosser on acoustic guitar. Having the main man within a few feet of vision, coupled with the acoustic factor, makes this one of Lanegan’s most intimate performances here in latter years.
Creating some subtly touching harmonies on a beautiful -One Hundred Days’ and -Resurrection Song’, Lanegan’s baritone growls benefit greatly from the dual melodies. Tonight, his vocals display a little more wear and tear than usual; he misses the high notes on -Wild Flowers’ and his voice briefly cracks towards the end of -One Hundred Days’. Nonetheless, Mark Lanegan has one of the best voices around. End of. Few singers can thrust their audience into such an awed silence by sheer presence alone. Indeed, Lanegan’s stage presence is an inexplicably confusing one – on the one hand he dominates (mostly thanks to that voice and by his own silence, bar the occasional gracious -thank you’) while on the other he appears self-conscious, blinded by the occasion. With every physical tick and twitch, the conviction of each line from his back catalogue is multiplied and as one visible drip of sweat glistens down a faintly hollowed cheek, for fans of Mark Lanegan all other gigs this year suddenly pale in comparison. Stripped of any gimmickry, this is the antidote to substanceless newfound sensations and from the gorgeously downplayed -Shiloh Town’ or -River Rise’ Lanegan has gut-wrenching poignancy in the bag. Meanwhile, the half-whisper of ‘where’s my baby?’ at the end of -Little Willie John’ and every subsequent ‘baby’ warrants an apt sigh.
As always, Lanegan appears humbled by the appreciative crowd and subsequently we’re treated to a three-song encore beginning with the sparse -Bubblegum’ and wrapped up with a hypnotic acoustic strumming of QOTSA’s -Hanging Tree’. After, the stage is stripped of setlist, bottled water, even the sweat filled towel Lanegan mopped his brow with, as scavenging fans grasp souvenirs of an elusive figure whose voice will linger on in minds for days. As the Academy 2 crowd make their way for the stairs or to the bar, it seems the only appropriate thing left to do is toast some whiskey to Lanegan and look forward to his next Irish dalliance.
Photograph: Rodolfo Schmidt