It’s time for my final gig of the year (well reviewing wise anyway) and I can think of no better way of wrapping up an excellent year of live music than by spending a few hours in the company of one of the acts behind one of the best albums of 2019, The Mark Lanegan Band
I also have something of a confession to make too as whilst I’ve been an admirer of John Robb’s work for quite some time now (via both his writing and his time spent fronting the awesome Goldblade) I’ve never actually seen his first band The Membranes live before, in fact I’ve only ever heard the odd track by them before tonight. As a result, and true to RPM form, brother Brooks and I are in Bristol’s SWX venue very early doors to make amends for this fact, and as it transpires boy are we glad we did.
For those of you like me who are perhaps unaware of their music, The Membranes kick out a kind of gothic post punk jam that only has Robb’s trademark creepers and haircut in common with those turbo-charged garage punk rockers Goldblade. Oh and ‘blade guitarist Peter Byrchmore whose been in the band since they reformed back in 2009, who mangles the six strings along with 80s Membranes guitarist Nick Brown, and creating a kind of Reeves Gabrels meets Robert Fripp six string sonic assault between them. Goldblade drummer Rob Haynes has along been along for the ride since the reunion but he’s missing from these European dates with Mike Simii providing the backbeat over some tripped-out samples and keyboards from the enigmatic Amelia Chain who also chips in with some kooky Ofra Haza style backing vocal too.
Having been on the road with Lanegan since early November The Membranes really have got their allotted 30 minute stage time down to a fine art, slotting in tracks from their recent ‘What Nature Gives...Nature Takes Away’ album like the throbbing ‘Black Is The Colour’ alongside the likes of ‘The Graveyard’ and ‘Dark Energy’ from their 2016 album ‘Dark Matter/Dark Energy’ with the always moving frontman (and here bassist) Robb cutting a very different figure here from the one he commands in Goldblade. At times it’s almost like someone has taken Shaun Ryder and somehow channelled the spirit of Phil Lynott through him (albeit correcting Lynott’s above the belt bass height failure). It really shouldn’t work, but by God it does, and as soon as the band wrap up their six song set with ‘Myths and Legends’ I find myself immediately rushing to the front of the stage to buy a copy of the band’s new album. (Robb having previously voiced on social media his uneasiness with the percentage certain venues were demanding for the band to sell their merch choosing to sell his wares from the photo pit.) So, I think we can say that’s mission accomplished as I certainly wasn’t alone in the rush for the new album.
If Alanis Morissette is looking to update her examples of irony for her 2020 tour then she need look no further than the fact that tonight RPM has a photo pass for this show, and for anyone who knows Mark Lanegan shows you’ll already get where I’m coming from, as its near impossible to take any decent photos, other than silhouettes, due to his penchant for blue and red backlighting, so as a result instead of making his way to the photo pit as Lanegan and band amble onto the stage just before 9pm Grandmaster Flash (aka Nev Brooks) instead steps into the mosh pit alongside me and gets ready to let the whole experience melt his brain as we have done on so many previous occasions in the company of Lanegan and Co.
Tonight though turns out to be unlike any other Mark Lanegan Band show we’ve ever attended, as by the time we reach ‘Emperor’ towards the end of tonight’s ninety minute main set people really have started something resembling a mosh pit, and earlier during ‘Penthouse High’ you better believe me when I say we were just a strobe light and a few glow sticks away from this being a regular club night at SWX.
This is the sound of Mark Lanegan Band in 2019 though folks, and with ‘Somebody’s Knocking’ featuring high in my RPM Albums of the Year list I really wouldn’t want it any other way. In the past when I’ve lost my cool with people around talking through the more melancholic moments of Lanegan’s shows tonight the chances of that happening are reduced to just one or two songs (with ‘One Hundred Days’ also getting one of the loudest shouts of the night and thankfully absolute silence around me) and everywhere else it’s very much the electro gothic sound that dominates his latest album that drives proceedings.
Lanegan himself seems to be loving every minute of it too, taking the time to address the audience after just one song and that banter (albeit brief) continuing pretty much for the rest of the night. Me, I’m totally lost in the moment, the sound enrapturing me and making me feel that there really is a force for good in the world after all. Plus when older songs like ‘Hit The City’ and ‘The Gravediggers Song’ pop up alongside the (I think) nine songs aired from ‘Somebody’s Knocking’ it all kind of falls into place as the true band sound & vision Lanegan has been working on for many a year now. There are times tonight where you could strip away the rock schtick and I could just as easily be watching Jeffrey Lee Pierce as I could Astrud Gilberto, the vocal key changes are at times totally sublime, and if you don’t see this then please just take one listen to ‘Dark Disco Jag’ live and tell me I’m wrong. This track alone conjures up images of what Kraftwerk might sound like jamming Burt Bacharach, and is truly inspirational.
Closing the main set out with the mandatory ‘Death Trip To Tulsa’ before returning for a double whammy encore of ‘Harbourview Hospital’ and (the ‘Thousand Miles Of Midnight’ version of) ‘The Killing Season’ Lanegan is soon out front on his merch table signing things for his faithful with no hint of paid meet and greet bollocks anywhere to be seen, and that right there is what makes this guy (as well as his music) so God damned punk rock. This is a singer who not only turned his back on an easy pay cheque with QOTSA but continues to stick his middle finger up to anything that is considered conventional in the rock n roll world, and I simply can’t help but love him for it.
If we hadn’t already submitted our gigs of the year list to RPM HQ tonight would have cruised into the top three with some ease, I just wish this every night could be like this, albeit maybe a little more well lit.
See you down the front in 2020!!!
Author: Johnny Hayward