Summer arrived in Minnesota on Friday, jacking the mercury into the low 90s and turning the Cedar Cultural Center, a venue with all the comforts of a Cold War middle school gymnasium, into a sweat lodge with a quality sound system. A few hundred lost souls drifted into these confines for the evening to witness the latest Twin Cities appearance of Los Angeleno, Mark Lanegan, the blues-rock golem, who, seven records into a distinguished solo career, remains a captivating and dedicated performer, despite having yet to find comfort in the pocketbooks of the music buying public.
Lanegan has spent much of his career lurking in the shadows of stardom. His 90’s outfit, Screaming Trees, were swept up in the wake of grunge, expert tunesmiths too firmly entrenched in their shamanistic blues to find favor with fortune. Since their demise, he has become something of thaumaturge for hire, lending his gravely pipes to records by Queens of the Stone Age, Greg Dulli, Isobel Campbell and the Soulsavers among others. That is, of course, to say nothing of his accomplished and varied solo records, the most recent of which, Blues Funeral, criminally slipped through the cracks upon release a few months back.
Friday night’s set leaned heavily on this latest, and its predecessor, Bubblegum. Live, with less reliance on canned beats, the songs are more muscular, rawer than their recorded counterparts, and Lanegan’s four minions provided the perfect amount of firepower without drawing undue attention to their contributions. Beginning with the pummeling The Gravedigger’s Song, Lanegan played Ahab, the self-loathing soothsayer, quietly oblivious to the madness of his undertaking. His unhinged state belied by his steadiness at the mic stand, he subjected the assembled, his accursed crew, to wounded crawls through the gutter alternated with strutting in plain view of heaven. His protagonists, though frequently desperate, remain defiant.
The set hit stride early with Grey Goes Black, a number that screams to be a single, or at least accompany a montage of self-destruction on the big screen. Minutes later the one-two punch of Phantasmagoria Blues and Quiver Syndrome further hinted at the aberration of our leader, who remained largely silent between numbers, stopping only thrice to thank the respectfully gathered for their applause. The stick-and-move of Riot In My House shook dust from the rafters, while Ode To a Sad Disco put the slightest of shimmies in Lanegan’s lanky frame, movements that registered as near histrionics on the otherwise motionless frontman.
The near-epic Tiny Grain Of Truth closed the main set, but the band quickly returned for a four song encore that included a stunning (and perhaps hopeful) reading of Harborview Hospital followed by a gutshot rendition of Methamphetamine Blues, sending the survivors into the humid night in search of their own private white whale.
Mark Lanegan Band on Tour
20 May DENVER, CO – Bluebird Theatre
22 May LOS ANGELES, CA – Gene Autry Museum Heritage Hall
23 May SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Great American Music Hall
25 May GEORGE, WA – Sasquatch! Festival
26 May PORTLAND, OR – Wonder Ballroom