Mark Lanegan Band
My personal Mark Lanegan saga doesn’t seem to have an end. Last week it reached its fifth chapter.
This is the number of times Mark Lanegan appears text and photos on this website, in on of his multitude of musical characters.
My first date with him was when he was dating Isobel Campbell. The first (or second?) album together was out. 2008. The beauty and the beast setting. The fairy tale. I shot them on b&w film at the Union Chapel. Nice gig, very dark lights.
The second time was not much later. He came back to London with Greg Dulli. The Gutter Twins collaboration; acoustic version. I got a photo pass for the show but when arrived to the Union Chapel (from Cambridge, not Angel!) I found an advice on the old wooden door of the church that all photography was forbidden. I enjoyed the gig and took some point and shot pics who made for a very different post.
About a year later, the third time. Lanegan was special guest of Soulsavers. Writing about that I conied the term Laneganize [anyone else's music] and ended up attacked by his fan club. I was still on 35mm film at the Electric Ballroom.
Fourth time Lanegan was playing a solo show, back at his beloved Union Chapel. A sort of “the blues enters the church” performance. It wasn’t proper solo, I have never seen him playing an instrument, but with just a defiled guitarist it was as stripped down as it can go and quite emotional. Shot on digital this time, but still B&W because there was only a red light from the gig to full darkness.
So this is the fifth time. You may believe I am a desperate fan, I am not actually. This is also the first time I saw Mark Lanegan Band. I missed his Bubblegum tour and I was distracted by something else to be at any Screaming Trees concert in the nineties, assuming there was any in Rome, Italy.
Tonight is London, the venue is Shepherds Bush Empire. If it wasn’t for the Bolshevik bureaucracy of the staff, it would be my favourite theatre in town to photograph live music.
Mark Lanegan isn’t only an anomaly of this blog (no one has appeared more than twice except him). He has been an anomaly of the music scene for the last 20 years.
After the Screaming Trees broke up, he has been involved in countless collaborations with completely different artists. From Stoner rock to avant-garde electronica to acoustic folk, he sang with them all.
Lanegan has always been generous on offering his baritone to anyone brave enough to match the music to such a dominant voice.
Brave. Because, and I come back to the point infuriating fans a couple of years ago, Lanegan voice is so centred, so unique, so overruling that any kind of music going with it is at risks of being ‘Laneganised’.
Some musicians (Isobel Campbell) handled it better than others (Soulsavers or UNKLE).
To have Lanegan on a record is surely a plus because there’s no voices like his and because he increases sales.
I am pretty sure that Isobel Campbell post Belle and Sebastian career, despite her good songwriting wouldn’t have gone any far without Lanegan. Even the best QOTSA album, Songs for the Deaf, must give big credits to him.
On a recent interview with the Quietus, Lanegan revealed his intimate side. He told nice anecdotes, he seems to have come to peace with his troubled past and confessed his inability to say no when offered a collaboration he likes.
Me. I felt in love with him the day I heard the traditional Where did you sleep last night covered. A version hundred times better than the hundred times most famous Nirvana at the MTV unplugged.
Kurt Cobain is on back vocals on Lanegan’s, it says it all.
My favourite album goes to I’ll Take Care of You. Another cover from the album of the same title, but in addition to the amazing title, I do love his songs in Whisky for the Holy Ghost.
In 2004 Mark Lanegan Band released Bubblegum. It is the apex of all his discography and his most commercially successful release. Stellar collaborations including stoner rock legends as QOTSA/Kyuss Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri, Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli, her majesty PJ Harvey on vocal for few songs and many more help to build a solid sound and a larger following.
Lanegan voice never ceases to be central. To be there.
Blues Funeral (another great title) is Mark Lanegan first solo album in about 8 years. It came out in February and seems to have split Lanegan’s fans in two.
Newer fans are loving it. Old school ones seem to have doubts.
I am split in two too. At the first listening it didn’t really work. Comfortable with the most Laneganized songs, I was frowning upon the “let’s-take-a-new-direction” ones, especially that Ode to a Sad Disco which uses, anathema!, electronic drums and sampling.
I kept it on loop to get prepared to this gig thanks to the online streaming (the stream is still available here) the album made it into my head.
I am still not convinced by some of the songs but overall I am liking it then… You know what I do… I go and see the live thing.
Shepherds Bush Empire has been sold out for a long time. 4AD found a ticket for me very last minute thanks to someone pulling it out, (that) Bolshevik staff, differently from most London venues, doesn’t let you stay with the photopass for the gig if you don’t have a proper ticket. Even if you have a ticket you go through a series of procedure to leave your bag, get out from the backdoor, enter from the main… bla bla.
A twenty songs long setlist, starting at 21:30 implies I have no chances to take the 23:15 train in Kings Cross. I am relaxed and prepared for another late night out on the First Capital Connect train in the middle of the week, not counting it’ll happen again the day after for Jeff Mangum. Exhausting and brilliant!
Lanegan arrives on stage with a 4 band members. A classic line-up made of guitar, bass, drums apart a guy on keys + Apple PowerBook. Macintosh laptop is the ubiquitous instrument on stage nowadays.
Lanegan grasps the microphone pole. Left hand on the mic, right on the pole. It won’t move for the next couple of hours.
I’d like to be an expert of body language to read into the pose all the insecurity the man seem to face anytime he is on a stage.
Lanegan doesn’t seem a confident person. He never plays an instrument (can he actually play, considering he composes his songs?). He rarely speaks (he introduced the band tonight, though). He doesn’t interact with the public beyond a “thank you, I appreciate”. Everything is filtered by the voice as it was something not his. An extension, an instrument he can play. That voice is the artist Mark Lanegan. The rest is elusive.
Ode to a Sad Disco arrives towards the end. That’s a determining moment of the show and being the first London show with the band in years, it is a key moment of his career. London. His band. Presenting to your audience an audacious new direction of his music. Blogosphere is agitated and divided.
Mark’s nervous. He leaves the mic pole for the first time in 5 gigs. How did it go?
It was the best moment of the show.
I changed my mind and realized that what sounds a bit out of place on the CD, it is perfect on stage.
For once Lanegan de-Laneganized himself. After putting his trademark on everyone else’s music. He removed that trademark from his own. He is the brave one. Kudos.
Fans may have been displaced, but they were not. Lot of applause and Lanegan, who his a clever guy, didn’t do an electronic techno concert but fitted part of his show with new elements. He gave the gig a fresh breath.
The band follows him. Lanegan pays a bit the fact of not having a proper touring band since the Screaming Trees. It changes in the different phases. He has some stellar guests on CD that cannot always follow his tours.
The keyboard/laptop man is the responsible of these musical new twist and he’s the essential element of his 2012 band.
The guitarist is a bit lacklustre and the rhythm session doesn’t do anything more than a good job. I missed a Josh Homme, not the man, the riffs.
Mark is generous. People loves him. The 50 or so people still queuing inside the venue half an hour after the gig to have the album signed show a devotion that is rare in modern times. I had to leave to take the last train.
With 5 concerts 2 on films, 2 on digital and one on a point a shot, I can dedicate a full phototip to “How to photograph Mark Lanegan“.
And it is not an easy task. Or it is the easiest. It depends what you expect from your photos.
Mark is charismatic as a performer and is attractive enough on his lone wolf pose to guarantee some good photos assuming you have a camera able to deal with the dark and you are not after variety. For a portrait he’s fantastic. For a photostory is a bit of a problem.
Mark Lanegan doesn’t play instruments. He stands. He holds the Mic pole and never moves from there.
Left hand is on the mic, right is on the pole. Check the tattoes on his hands, they seem to be there ready to be photographed.
Lights are fixed. For the joy of digital shooteer he constantly has a red light theme that doesn’t change. Some blue is added to the back.
Kneeling down allow a backlight to be covered by his head both sided, highlighting the hairs with a halo. It looks nice, assuming there is some light to lit up his face. Which often there is not. So that you have great hair (check the histogram may need some underexposure) with a flat face in the shadow. A fill in flash may help… never tried, highly forbidden.
He moves the face from the mic when there are breaks in the lyrics. Follow the song, follow his body language. The left side, looking at the stage, is the best. That is where he turns the head, showing is immersed, grieving face. That is the moment to avoid the mic in face irritating portrait.
So far so good.
The rest is up to your focal length and colour setting.
Go wide to include the band, go telephoto for some close portrait.
Mark Lanegan will not surprise you doing something unexpected. Or at least it still has to happen to me. I tried B&W film, B&W digital, color (red/blue) and now sepia.
I will be there a sixth time, to see to which limit he’ll push me.