A chilly evening and an almost equally sub-zero venue are not putting off devotees of Mark Lanegan tonight, the assembled throng resolutely wrapped in winter garb inside Church, Leeds.
Following his low-key An Evening With… dates last year, the grizzled Grunge survivor returns with full band in tow, a restlessness rewarding for his audience. Now 53, Lanegan has improved with advancing years, his string of solo albums since 2004’s Bubblegum perfecting his brooding noir blues.
Current album Gargoyle has rightly been hailed as some of his finest work, its opening track Death’s Head Tattoo introducing tonight’s performance. While there’s no mistaking that spine-tingling voice from the outset, it’s immediately apparent that the band are up against a pretty dreadful sound mix.
Lanegan’s smoky baritone needs clarity to evoke the rich atmosphere and nuance of his music, but he is not served well this evening, sometimes rendered almost unheard among the muddy sonics. Frankly, it’s frustrating.
Despite such challenges, Lanegan delivers the songs with his usual glowering intensity, a taciturn but charismatic presence gripping the microphone stand as if clinging to life. His band, as ever, are excellent, guitarist Jeff Fielder expertly adding texture and colour, while Lanegan’s partner Shelley Brien provides additional backing vocals. With a set list that dips into several of his solo albums, it’s the goth-infused Nocturne with its throbbing, narcotic pulse and the anthemic punch of Beehive that especially pick up the intensity.
If the chiming melancholia of Harborview Hospital is an understated highlight, it’s swiftly countered by the fill-tilt urgency of Riot in My House, with an aggressively wiry and stinging solo from Fielder. Come to Me is tenderly sung with Brien as a bruised and damaged duet, before the band close on the strung-out clatter of Methamphetamine Blues. However, it’s the encore that provides the best sound of the night – Torn Red Heart from 2014’s Phantom Radio and One Way Street from 2001’s Field Songs are performed with guitar and vocal only, haunting renditions with stripped-back arrangements, impervious to the foibles of any sound engineer.