After a handful of songs spent propping himself up with a mic stand and taking his cues from an illuminated music stand in front of him, Mark Lanegan delivered his first unscripted lines to the brimming room. With his hard-creased face looking menacingly (natch) ahead at the soundboard, he offered a verbal pistol-whip: "I'm feeding back all over the place. Fix it. It's fucked."
Lanegan is an intimidating presence, much like a humorless Christopher Walken, on stage and on record in his partnership with the precious-voiced, delicately framed Isobell Campbell. In both settings, his gravely, life-beaten growl overshadows her tender, humble contributions. Her role of patient producer and contributor--not unlike an actor/director who casts oneself in a supporting role in their own film--is her most significant artistic contribution to their partnership. Put another way: Lanegan, the former frontman of Screaming Trees, is booked as the leading man, and makes good at the box office, but you wouldn't be in the room were it not for Campbell.
Yet Campbell's steady hand as a producer of this grit-folk ensemble does not diminish her significance as a creator. Her voice, like her presence on record and on stage, is more often felt than it is heard. But on solo turns like "To Hell and Back Again," she proves that she can hold her own up front, too.
But it's her ability to hold the partnership together, to get Lanegan--who grits through every song and appears to be by far the more vulnerable of the pair--to perform and foster a relationship that is fascinating to watch unfold on stage, is her most remarkable accomplishment.
The Crowd: I can honestly say this was one of the most pleasant audiences I've ever encountered at a show in town. Spirits were high and everyone was grinning. I have no idea why the show was all ages. If there were more than a dozen folks in the room born after the '70s, they did a good job staying well hidden. It took forever to get a drink at the room's one bar.
Overheard In the Crowd:
"He actually sounds like Bob Dylan." Kind of, but Dylan sounds like the chipmunk version of Lanegan.