Still going strong
Mark Lanegan Band - Live At The Cockpit, Leeds

The imposing man in black who sidles up to the microphone should really be brown bread. Anyone familiar with Mark Lanegan’s journey through the decades, forging his distinctive alternate rock music, may well be surprised he’s made it to 47 years of age.

Having been embroiled in drug use from an early age, the Washington native swerved a prison sentence by completing a year in rehab at just 21 years old. It was here Lanegan met the Connor brothers, with whom he later formed grunge rock group, Screaming Trees. The band produced seven albums and was critically applauded, but they never made it into the commercially successful ranks of contemporaries Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains. The band officially broke up in 2000 and Lanegan joined Queens Of The Stone Age for three hit albums. Following his stint with Josh Homme et al came three darkly seductive albums with former Belle & Sebastian singer, Isobel Campbell.

Now touring in support of his 2012 release, ‘Blues Funeral’, his seventh as a solo artist, the word has clearly spread, as the smart venue at the Leeds University is rammed solid.

The crowd are a mixed mass; some younger folk must have just discovered Lanegan’s grinding, black, heady blues. The majority however seem aware of whose presence they are in. It’s an air of reverence Lanegan commands as he looms over the microphone and eases into the slow and contemplative, ‘When Your Number Isn’t Up’. The steady away beginning is obliterated with the second track as the new album opener ‘Gravedigger Blues’ explodes across the crowd. It’s a pile-driving, sonic smack in the face and jolts the audience into even more eager anticipation for the night ahead.

Lanegan doesn’t do much in the way of audience interaction, which may irk some people, but his enigmatic presence and rough-hewn dark rock is compelling throughout. He plays a batch of tracks from across his sizeable discography, including Screaming Trees song ‘Crawlspace’ and an eerie version of ‘Creeping Coastline of Lights’ by The Leaving Trains. New tracks like ‘Riot In My House’ and ‘Ode To Sad Disco’ whip the crowd into an undulating force, while ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Tiny Grain of Truth’ showcase the more subtle and plaintive dimension of ‘Blues Funeral’.

The encore begins with a world-weary ‘Pendulum’ from Lanegan’s 1994 solo album ‘Whisky for the Holy Ghost’ and continues with one of the more surprising tracks from the new album. As ‘Harborview Hospital’ opens, shimmering synths joining the grumbling, chain-heavy guitars, Lanegan sings, “Oh sister of mercy I've been gone too long to say, and all around this place I was a sad disgrace,” and I’m struck by a sudden synchronicity. There’s more than a whiff of Sisters Of Mercy about the song, which is now being lapped up in Leeds - goth central throughout the ‘80s and goth kingpins Sisters Of Mercy’s hometown. But any prolonged musing about the coincidence is soon struck aside by the industrial clanging of ‘Methamphetamine Blues’. Now Lanegan resembles the elder statesman of gravel-voiced, alternative blues, Tom Waits.

With Lanegan’s off-kilter collaborations and solo work flourishing with such bodies of compelling songs, tonight gives resounding reason to be grateful that the grizzled outlaw made it through his vice-filled early decades.

Words by Nick Rice
Photo by Giles Smith

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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