Review: Mark Lanegan Live in Sydney

Mark Lanegan is one of those enigmatic artists who, while many have never heard of him, those who do think the absolute world of him. The gravelly voiced grunge veteran, who previously called Queens of the Stone Age and Screaming Trees home, has collaborated with Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley (in Mad Season), PJ Harvey and even UNKLE, has ten solo albums and has been compared to everyone from Nick Cave to Tom Waits, came back to Australia last week to perform at Splendour in the Grass and a short run of headline sideshows.

The last time Lanegan visited Australia, he didn’t perform in Sydney, so I flew down to Melbourne to catch him. This time around I didn’t have to travel so far, heading only to The Factory in Marrickville – a seriously underrated venue in my opinion. I arrived early to catch the support slot from one of my favourite local bands The Laurels, who have recently announced their long-awaited official return, and as their set warmed the stage, the venue began to fill. It was really nice to see The Laurels again, it had been a couple of years since I last saw them perform. Having just announced that their second album Sonicology will finally be out this October, it was great hear new tracks, with the band obviously feeling revitalised and full of feverish energy.

It wasn’t long after that Lanegan and band arrived on stage. Lanegan and his band have a kind of reverent glow; when they’re playing, you pay them your full attention. It’s not exactly sombre, and it’s certainly not sedate, although there’s undoubtedly a coat of darkness varnishing even the lightest musical moments. There’s little fanfare and almost no audience interaction, but that’s expected; this isn’t really the place for banter.

The band opened with Harvest Home from 2014 album Phantom Radio, before launching into The Gravedigger’s Song from 2012’s Blues Funeral. This is one of my favourite Lanegan songs ever, so the early appearance came as a wonderful surprise. The track’s powerful driving bass and rhythm immediately heightened the energy in the room. His voice is amazing on record and more so in front of you; husky and deep, richly melodic and weathered, he can lead a raucous, guitar-heavy grunge track with the same fluidity and purpose as he can a soft, emotive folk number.


The set focused on music from Phantom Radio and Blues Funeral, peppered with a few favourites from throughout his career, including the sensual Sleep With Me from 2003’s Here Comes That Weird Chill, a cover of The Twilight Singers‘ Deepest Shade, and, to the delight of many, a performance of The Screaming Trees’ Black Rose Way (off their last official “album,” Last Words: The Final Recordings which, despite being recorded somewhere in the late 1990s, was only properly released in 2011). The encore brought two of my favourite of his latter-day tracks to life with I Am The Wolf and Killing Season, but the final home run might’ve been the best, bringing the set to a close with the loud and messy Methamphetamine Blue, the standout from 2004’s Bubblegum

When you watch Mark Lanegan, you get a feeling that you’re kind of witnessing history. It’s like when you see an older, legendary rock band delivering a brilliant concert in 2016; yes, they’re ageing (although this is more noticeable by looking around the audience than listening to the band) and yes, that seething, punk energy he was once known for has largely been laid to rest, but doesn’t feel even slightly irrelevant, old, or nostalgic. His music, his lyrics and his general identity in the music industry are quite singularly legendary, and for good reason; it completely ignores, and thus surpasses, time and trend. And this is only magnified when compared to his Splendour in the Grass contemporaries.

He may fly under the radar for some, but the rest of us are tremendously lucky. There’s nobody else like Mark Lanegan.

Image: Supplied