Thursday, June 12, 2008

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, St George's Church

Mark Lanegan can come and read me bedtime stories any time he likes. Gravelly doesn't quite cut it as a description of his vocal talents - imagine a fist punching through warm treacle into broken glass and you will be close. Formerly lead singer with Seattle grungers the Screaming Trees and some-time vocalist with Queens of the Stone Age, Lanegan has now formed an unlikely musical partnership with ex Belle & Sebastian singer/cellist Isobel Campbell, with whom he is currently touring, following the release of their second album together. I caught them last night at St George's in Kemp Town, one of my favourite live music venues in Brighton.

Maybe it's my imagination, but the makeshift stage at St George's seemed to be even more poorly lit than at previous gigs, so that you could hardly make out the features of the performers. This combined with the fact that neither Lanegan or Campbell showed any effort to engage with their audience between songs, made for a strangely flat gig. The music itself was interesting - echoes of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, with a distinctly alt-country flavour (in other words, right up my street). Lanegan got by on the strength of his spine-tingling vocals, but Campbell's delicately ethereal voice was largely lost under the excessively enthusiastic (and for this small venue, just excessive) backing band.

The whole point of going to see a band live is to break down the barrier between artist and audience - to hear and see the music emerge from its creator and in doing so, enhance one's long term appreciation of their material. When musicians don't appear to be enjoying themselves, or even attempting to inject any enthusiasm into their live performances, it only serves to maintain and even reinforce that barrier, which does rather defeat the object. Both Lanegan and Campbell clearly have talent, and are making some compelling music together, but they lack any on-stage charisma, and come across as distant and aloof. If you are considering going to see them live, I would recommend spending the money on buying the new CD and staying home to listen to it instead. You'll probably get more out of it that way.

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