Soulsavers with Mark Lanegan

Third time in a year I came across a music project that involves Mark Lanegan.
Second time in a row this happens for my Christmas post. Last year “the beast” was pairing with “the beauty”, Isobel Campbell inside the very Christmassy Union Chapel.
This year Lanegan joined on stage Soulsavers for a gig at the Electric Ballroom in Camden. Mark Lanegan is becoming a sort of Live on 35mm Santa Claus, or “Satan Claus”.

Not sure about the catholic intention behind Soulsavers‘ name, is saving the soul the aim of their music? Fact is both band and song names fit a Christmas post of a non catholic Italian. Let’s see.

Soulsavers are a strange musical entity that sits in the middle between a proper band and a sort of production team that remixes songs creating a nice, slow tempo, atmospheric music.

They debuted in 2003 with, Tough Guys Don’t Dance.
Josh Haden, son of jazzman Charlie Haden sang three tunes but it was when his song Spiritual was interpreted by Lanegan on their their sophomore release, It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land, that the attention arrived.
On that album, Mr Mark Lanegan sang on all tunes except the instrumentals.

Lanegan voice is a stamp on anyone’s music, fact. He has the deepest, most cavernous voice of the scenes since Nick Cave exit depression.

If during the Screaming Trees era his baritone conserved high and strong pitches, with years it got deeper, gloomier, bluesier.

Such a voice fits his mysterious, auto segregated persona and generates thousands of adoring fans. Either women dreaming of him or men pretending to be him.
I don’t have nothing against the star system, it has always been and always will be. Fans ask and the system delivers references to suit any mood. Lanegan‘s attitude has been seen since Jim Morrison‘s darkest years and rock’n’roll annals report several examples.

What I find a bit disappointing is how, music-wise, his vocal contributions instead of adding a personal touch to original projects, take control of the whole. Every record that has Lanegan as special guest sounds as a Lanegan album with the original band as guest.

It is since Songs of the Deaf, Queens of The Stone Age 2003 landmark album that the ego of Lanegan hasn’t been contained. On that album the even stronger temper of Josh Homme managed to bring Lanegan into QOTSA and not vice versa.

With Soulsavers we are seeing the “Laneganization” of music.
“Mark Lanegan” is a brand, a franchise ready to put his sticker on any cover. As McDonald or Gap, he stamps a mark and leaves his flavour on everything he touches.
My comparison is a bit on the harsh side, I appreciate, Mark‘s voice is beautiful and million miles better than anything you can eat at McDonald, but my point holds.

Listening to Soulsavers’ Broken, can’t deny it is a good album but does not say anything to what Lanegan did already with them (and without). A collection of dark songs and ballads, rotating around the “Let me suffer, leave me alone” philosophy that always find sympathetic souls.

I arrive to the Electric Ballroom to see if live things are different. My illusion, I am wrong. Retrospectively, I should have guessed.

Soulsavers are comfortable in a recording studio. They master mixers and take control of all the buttons. On stage the situation is opposite.

Lanegan‘s ego is nourished by the audience. He sings the songs, he never speaks a single word in addition to the songs’ lyrics, takes his distinctive pose and catches the attention (and most of my 35mm frames).
Standing in front of the microphone, left hand on it, right hand on the pole. He sings with eyes closed, looks down, left or right when there is nothing to sing. Pulls some suffering faces. Dressed in a black elegant suit. Dark lights (he bloody always stands in the darkness) he’s silhouette looks like Jim Morrison‘s ghost.
This is Mark Lanegan on stage.

The first time you see him is fascinating.
Three gigs later spent in exactly the same position, despite three different collaborations, I start believing it is a pose.
It fits with the narcissistic character he plays on stage. The figure of the dark, unreachable man has always been a classic of female fantasies, hasn’t it?

I’d love to meet Lanegan in an informal situation and discover what kind of guy he is, I bet he has nothing to do with the one he personifies.

Truth is, as this review is proving, Lanegan charisma takes over. It’s easy to forget Soulsavers which is unfair, since they still put on a nice show.

As you would expect, with such a star in the dressing room, the gig opens with an instrumental, Ask the Dust. It let Soulsavers have their five minutes of stardom before the “black old sun” arrives to eclipse everything else.

Indeed. Ghosts of You and Me introduces the main theme of the night and the main theme of Lanegan last one thousand and one nights.

“If I had a black cat bone
Then I would not be alone
Do it Darling, dig my grave
This cemetry is my own

Is a long and lonesome road
Don’t ask me little Rosa
Which direction I don’t know”

Some Misunderstanding is the first track from Broken. Lanegan gives his best. His voice is deep but follows the melody that would fit with an early Pink Floyd record. It’s almost orchestral, hugs.
Fans believe he’s for real and they scream it out.
No one cares of the band, despite there is a guitarist playing nice Gilmour-ish stuff and a bass player that fights at the front to make himself visible it is in vain. Praise to the effort.

The song it’s very long, which is a great plus for my three-songs-no-flash photo slot in the pit. Not sure there are other reasons to have 8 minutes of this, though.

It’s Christmas time. Jesus of Nothing tries to shift the focus on the real star of the festivity and the electro-beat on the band, but as soon as the voice arrives, it’s still a Mark affair.

“Last go round
Seemed like my trail’s nearly ending
Been locked up
Going outta my head

Those blocking out the sun
I turn the ocean over
See nowhere to run
I’ve run so far already”

The harder tune, the single Death Bells, has guitars emerging and the song takes off. It is a nice break from the ballads. The flight lands soon in known terrain. The Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) piece, You Will Miss me When I Burn, is the other single taken from Broken.
In two line it synthesize all Lanegan‘s philosophy.

“When you have no one
No one can hurt you

There is absence, there is lack
There are wolves here abound
You will miss me
When I turn around”

Right, we got that Mark.

Paper Money is a rattle which acts as a nice interlude reminding me of Bad Seeds Red Right Hand. Kingdoms of Rain opening piano recalls Beethoven’s moonlight sonata and is difficult to differentiate from You Will Miss Me When I Burn.

The gig goes back into religious mood with Spiritual. Josh Haden song brings Jesus back on stage. Lanegan epitomises a vain priest singing a prayer… to himself

“Jesus, I don’t wanna die alone
Jesus oh Jesus I don’t wanna die alone
My love was untrue
Now all I have is you
Jesus oh Jesus I don’t wanna die alone

Jesus, Jesus
All my trouble
All my pain
Will leave me once again alone”

It may sounds illogical, but if this is the mood, the show works better when it is expressed at its most miserable downs like these.

Rolling Sky stands out as another good ambient song despite it lacks the presence of the dreaming voice of Red Ghost, the female singer who made her way to the album after overwhelming the band with demo tapes. Perseverance pays back.
Tonight her role is taken by two back singers that are standing isolated on the backstage, in the dark. Next time put their mic straight in the dressing room!

Another Jesus arrives, borrowed from ZZ Top! Jesus Just Left Chicago cover has nothing to do with what you expect from the rock-blues bearded trio, the “Laneganization” applies again.
Unbalanced Pieces it is one of the best track on Broken, more upbeat and with great guitar playing. On the album it is, pardon me, a “balanced piece”, there Mark Lanegan‘s voice meets Mike Patton‘s. The two singers at the very extreme of the music spectrum meet in a very interesting exercise. Tonight Patton is missing and the song despite the back vocalists effort becomes faithful to its title. Still a potentially great track, and Soulsavers‘ guitarist deserve another praise.

There is time for an encore. It hasn’t been a long gig, friday night Camden clubbers are impatiently waiting outside to kick the misery out of the Electric Ballroom. Soulsaver come back to interpret, Silent Night. No wonder, Mr “howling wolf” Lanegan refuses to join the “Christmas choir”.
He greets the devoted fans his way. Revival, the opening track from Soulsaver second album closes the show

“Said gonna be a revival tonight
I wanna see a revival
Gonna be a revival tonight
Lord, let there be a revival

Forgive what I have done
It means my soul’s survival,
I need you so,it’s sin
Put an end to my suffering

Why am I so blind with my eyes wide open?
Trying to get my hands clean in dirty water”

Lights are on, concert is finished. Indeed it was a revival of Lanegan‘s ego sountracked by a band who can record great music but still has to find its balance on a live stage.

Listen to Soulsavers on [website] [myspace]

Photo tip

Shooting Mark Lanegan is at the same time easy and difficult, intriguing and boring.
His pose is always the same, easy but boring.
He is always in the darke, difficult but intriguing.

What I noticed at this show was a spotlight on the ceiling that, thanks to the high stage of the Electric Ballroom, allowed to be used as a “rim light”.

Backlights are tricky but can be used at our advantage, which is what I am suggesting you to try.

Mount a very good lens with an excellent coating to obtain contrasted pictures without flare and ghost images.
Better you use your old prime, a 50mm, if your zoom is not one of those very expensive, heavy, professional objects.

Next thing to do is to study the musician position. With Lanegan it is easy because he basically doesn’t move, so you can move around him to find the right angle.
The spot you are after is the one where the head covers the backlight.
In such a situation the images will come out with a sort of white bright aura that emphasize the hair and make your subject stand out from the back.

It is a classic practice used in portrait photography light schemes. To set such a light in a studio is easy, at a gig you don’t have neither control of the lights nor of the subject so if you spot the chance, use it.

The other thing you have to check is the exposure. Shooting with a light playing hide and seek with singers’ head can trick even the most advanced multi matrix exposure meter.
Two suggestions. Either you spot measure on the subject face, or you use the same shutter/aperture pair you would use if the light wasn’t there. Test some shots with a couple of different manual settings you (digital shooters) will get the right conditions.

Remember that is better to overexpose a stop that having the subject underexposed.
Unless you are going for a silhouette, which is another tip.

Have a great break, celebrate in style the start of this new decade.
Live on 35mm will be back in 2010 with all the live music and photography you want… and much more. Stay tuned!

Happy Christmas,

~ by Valerio on December 25, 2009.

24 Responses to “Soulsavers with Mark Lanegan”

  1. Merry Christmas Mark! May happiness bloom in your heart, and I can help with that!

    Mazzaò, un sorrisino mai?

  2. I can help you with that too Mark.

  3. Mr Mark Lanegan knows how to smile and he’s a really nice&sweet person. We need more human being like him. Let’s have a Laneganization of the world!

  4. I enjoyed reading your review, even if I disagree with your take on Mark. He has one of THE most distinct voice; I’m not sure how you expect that to blend into the background – and why SHOULD it.

    To me Soulsavers sound totally different from, say, Gutter Twins, despite Mark being at the helm of both. That said, I’m surprised you didn’t have more to say about Rich Warren’s fantastic guitar playing. Surely as outstanding as Mark’s vocals, no?

  5. Hi Angela,
    I don’t know what to expect from Mark’s collaborations either, to be sincere.
    I just find a bit annoying that anywhere he sings a song, that song become a Lanegan tune.

    If so, probably he should just stick to his brilliant solo career and reject the myriad of collaboration he’s offered.

    Guitar playing at the gig was amazing… true.


  6. Mr Lanegan, if you are reading please listen to Valerio, he’s a wise man.
    Best Lanegan collaborations so far (X ME):
    1)Bomb the Bass
    2)Mad Season
    3)Twilight Singers
    4)Queen of the Stone Age
    BUT WE *ALL* PREFER YOUR SOLO STUFF (even if the Bomb the Bass stuff rocks!)

  7. Let’s open “Helping Mark Lanegan smile and do solo albums” facebook group. He might notice me and Elle.
    This being said Vale… had MArk worn a blue suit you would have printed in black too, right?

    • hey I have been looking for the group on facebook but I haven’t found it yet..I already signed to 2 Mark Lanegan groups : The Easter Island statues are actually sculptures of Mark Lanegan and I eat in the same kebaby as Mark Lanegan…whe is yours on?

  8. I’m particularly taken by your comment you’ve seen him 3 times and he does exactly the same, ie. doesn’t move on stage. Hell there will be people who have seen him since Trees’ days and can confirm that ,as would a gander through YouTube.

    In fact movement is so rare that any videos where he does move always have astonished comments.There is 1 Trees video however which makes clear why he doesn’t. He may well have the best voice in contemporary music and a glorious way with words but he simply has no sense of rhythm at all. Sorry dear, it’s not a big pose ;standing stock still suits him.He comes across as someone who is actully quite shy and as one of your critics on onewhiskey said, not playing an instrument and standing on stage can be an uncomfortable experience.

    As for the fantasy bit, well ok , yes I’ll come clean on that. I suppose we may have Miss Campbell to thank /blame ( delete as appropriate ) and/or whoever designed the cover for BOTBS , both of whom must be big Tennessee Williams fans.I’m not sure however given the combination of his voice, general subject matter and his looks if it would be possible not to have at least the smallest frisson of sex involved but that’s not really his fault, nor really anything to do with him.

    As for the other musicians getting no attention.I’ve seen Soulsavers twice including the show you were at and simply don’t recognise what you are saying. The bass guitarist in particular was well to the fore and was better lit than Lanegan

  9. to be honest with all of you..I don’t care if Mark don’t move on stage he can also sit down. I am not going to see concerts to be entertained but only to listen good music. I don’t care if someone is shy/sexy or has a good rhythm or is a good dancer or has a pose. I don’t think that he has the best voice in contemporary music neither I just think that Mark Lanegan has a voice that has some appeal to me. I can see listen for hours and hours singers and musicians that stand still and are not beautiful at all (see Vic Chesnutt: RIP). I saw Screaming Trees in the past and the two brothers were standing still even if they were incredible musicians. Also, one of the best known reason Screaming Trees didn’t make it over Nirvana in the “grunge era” was because of the pretty looking face of Kurt Cobain. If you want someone moving her/his bottom and doing some sexy move you should consider to take a ticket for Beyonce next time :)

  10. Well, my whole point about Lanegan standing still on stage was clearly not because I want him dancing… nevermind

  11. Hey Valerio, your comment was clear, it was only by a photographer point of view and not by a music lover and I understand your Lanegasitation concept. I was only replying to the previous comment from Caitlin.

  12. Why then valerio were you whining about what he does onstage being boring ? These are your words “Three gigs later spent in exactly the same position, despite three different collaborations, I start believing it is a pose ” make your mind up. Anyway I really can’t be bothered with this any more. This is far more about your ego than anything else. oh and don’t take my comment about your faux Guardian/Independent style of writing as compliment.It wasn’t meant to be
    .Myriam, you have completely missed the point of what I was saying.

  13. uh la la…sorry ..

  14. Gosh Caitlin,
    I have written 1500 words about a Soulsavers gig, most of them are about the lyrics, their content, the darkness that Lanegan sing, the unbalance that arises without Red Ghost or Mike Patton on stage. His deep tone of voice, the attitude of the segregated man in black that characterizes him regardless the band he’s in. The fact that he fits a particular man character which is adored in rock since Jim Morrison.

    You keep repeating again and again my single sentence, out of its contest, about the way he stands!
    Your point is clear, for you Lanegan is not posing, everyone has understood, I tried to say something different with Laneganisation… let’s move on now, OK?

    The Guardian and the Independent have two very different styles of writing about music. I can’t be imitating both. Pick one. Hint, between Alexis Petridis and Andy Gill I prefer the first for the writing the second for the taste (‘cos we both hate Coldplay and love Gangof4).

  15. Hi Valerio,

    Thanks for your review and lovely photos! Of course we can’t all agree on everything, that’s live and its not wroth getting upset about. I’ve had to defend my obsession with Mr Lanegan to MANY confused people over the years. He’s a puzzle of a man which is part of why he’s so interesting to his fans, but also why he’s so frustrating to non-fans.

  16. Long life Mark!

  17. I will create the group at once!

  18. After reading all kind of stuff about this post on the ML fan website, I thought I had to read your blog! It’s a nice read, I disagree with most of what you say but I totally understand your point of view. It’s funny because before seeing ML live, I thought the exact same thing, that he was playing the role of a dark, untouchable man, but after seeing him live I actually changed my mind. I really think the man is genuine in his attitude, all the people he has worked with said that he’s not an outgoing person, at least at the beginning, I think he’s faithful to who he is onstage and I appreciated that. I feel like he’s trying to make people forget he’s onstage to put the focus on his singing and the music…
    I agree with you when you say that everytime he collaborates with someone, he almost turns it into a solo project, but I think that’s what the people who invite him want. I mean, when you invite a person with such a special voice and way of singing, you have to know it’s going to happen, don’t you think?
    Do you mind me asking where you live? Because, when reading your post, I felt like you were talking about a big rockstar and I really don’t see ML this way. I live in france and pretty much nobody talks about him here, he’s not a big selling name. I actually think this guy is one of the most underrated singer of this generation.
    Well, anyway, whatever we all think, the guy is probably never gonna change now, so I guess we have to accept him with his qualities and flaws! ;-)

  19. I like your site, just bookmarked it!…Thanks

  20. I understand what your position is when you say, “Every record that has Lanegan as special guest sounds as a Lanegan album with the original band as guest.”, but I think this is down to the fact that Lanegan is drawn to projects that either work within genres he’s familiar with, or explore moods and atmospheres that he’s excelled in.
    In addition, he does often write songs for these collaborations so more of this comes through.
    Having said that, all his various projects are quite musically distinct from each other, with his brooding voice being the main aspect tying them together.
    Furthermore, you say, “It is since… 2003… that the ego of Lanegan hasn’t been contained.”, but from any interview with Lanegan, when he decides to utter anything more than a few words, he’s a modest man, somewhat embarrassed by the adoration he receives, and uncomfortable singing on stage – but I can see why you’d think it’s his ego/persona/act and not a genuine thing if you haven’t followed his career closely.
    Finally, when it comes to his gloomy subject matter… “Right, we got that Mark.”. Put on any delta blues record and you can complain about the same thing… ‘geez, why don’t these guys lighten up and change their tune?’. I guess being a drug dealer, long term hard drug addict, and watching his drug addict friends drop like flies over the years has permanently stained his lyric sheets.
    He would be driven by an unruly ego if he become contrived in his writing and tried appeasing his listeners rather than truly expressing himself.
    There’s been no shift in his on stage “persona” or the messages he’s conveyed since he first dragged himself onto the stage.

  21. Thanks James J for the long comment! Have you read the posts I wrote about Gutter Twins, Mark solo and with Isobel Campbell? He is by far the artist appearing most on this blog. I love Mark, yet his attitude, even a silent, embarassed, modest attitude to me looks like a sign of ego, even if at a first glance may look the opposite. This doesn’t affect the quality of his music, which is constantly good just a little bit “samey”

  22. Hi Valerio. I only found this post last night, so I’ve yet to read the rest of the blog, but I will do.
    There’s a saying, I can’t remember exactly how it goes, so I’m paraphrasing, but it’s to the effect of “if you can’t develop your talents over a wide range, work on being the best in one area”. I think Lanegan is that kind of guy. You’ll never get a dizzying variety from him, but he has honed his voice and writing talents in one area consistently.

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