Live: Mark Lanegan Brings His Cure To Bowery Ballroom


Mark Lanegan Band
Bowery Ballroom
Tuesday, February 7

Better than: Drowning.

Mark Lanegan has a voice. You know? It’s like those super-high-definition photographs of people that don’t get airbrushed, that show the lives the subjects have lived in every wrinkle and mole and imperfection. Lanegan’s instrument is like that, all weathered and scarred and those flaws somehow making its already existent beauty more arresting, more devastating.

Lanegan’s new album, Blues Funeral (it’s actually credited to the Mark Lanegan Band), highlights the searing qualities of the singer’s vocal by placing it against backdrops that are startlingly beautiful, lush and at times even cheery. (The record was produced by Alain Johannes, who was also responsible for Lanegan’s 2004 album Bubblegum.) “Harborview Hospital” has a lengthy, synth-spangled outro that recalls New Order’s “Temptation”; “Quiver Syndrome” has oohs and ahhs that bring to mind the Dandy Warhols’ cheeky “Bohemian Like You.” The lyrics remain full of suffering and pain—illness, heartbreak, the feeling of drowning—making the contrast even starker.

Last night at the Bowery Ballroom Lanegan and his band ran through a set full of tracks from Blues Funeral, which came out this week; older material like the swaggering “Sleep WIth Me” folded right into the new songs, his voice providing the through line for the night. He clutched the microphone like it was a life raft, breathing and moaning his words into it as if they might be his last as he sang of water, rivers, going under. The album’s lush production translated surprisingly well to the room’s tight confines, and while Lanegan’s voice did get a bit lost in the mix at a couple of brief points, he remained a commanding if somewhat spectral presence, inspiring adulation from the crowd (the number of times someone shouted just his last name had to be in the dozens) even though he addressed it with the barest minimum of banter. Then again, who needs to be teased with pleasantries and shout-outs to [insert city here] when you’ve got pain to share with a room, and a way to mae the people inside it feel down to their bones?

Critical bias: 2012 is still young, but Blues Funeral is easily in my top three of the year so far. (You can listen to it here.)

Mark Lanegan Band, “The Gravedigger’s Song”

Overheard: “You’re better than Tom Waits!”

Random notebook dump: I hope he plays the next Asbury Park installment of I’ll Be Your Mirror.

Set list:
Can’t Come Down
The Gravedigger’s Song
Bleeding Muddy Water
Sleep With Me
Hit The City
Wedding Dress
Resurrection Song
Harborview Hospital
Quiver Syndrome
One Hundred Days
Creeping Coastline Of Light
Riot In My House
Ode To Sad Disco
Wish You Well
St Louis Elegy
Methamphetamine Blues
Tiny Grain Of Truth

When Your Number Isn’t Up
One Way Street