A beautiful summer’s evening, drinks at the Southbank, anticipating the company of a timelessly iconic vocalist and songwriter. Doesn’t get much better than that. And all credit to James Lavelle, who has been responsible for curating this year’s Meltdown Festival.
Sitting in the equally iconic Queen Elizabeth Hall, I await the arrival of Mark Lanegan and – while I wait – am graced with the presence of Tor Miller. An unlikely candidate for the support slot of the legendary rocker, Miller oozes emotion as he delivers his stirring falsetto and climatic chords on keys. Reminiscent of the likes of singer songwriters, Alt J or James Blake, Miller intensely tells tales of Manhattan parks and messy rooms with an endearing, youthful passion.
Ashamedly, the extent of my knowledge of Lanegan’s discography merely stretches to Queens Of The Stone Age and a few of the more widely recognised Screaming Trees tracks. However, he is one of the most prolific songwriters of the modern age, having collaborated with artists ranging from Kurt Cobain to Isobel Campbell, as well as having recorded a vast collection of solo material. With this in mind, you may presume I’d be bitter with disappointment at the absence of the likes of ‘In The Fade’ or ‘Hangin’ Tree’, but it is impossible to be in any way disappointed when faced with such an overwhelmingly enchanting set.
As the fragile figure of Lanegan takes to the stage and that characteristic deep drawl echoes throughout the grand surroundings, the crowd is immediately captivated; every word that leaves Lanegan’s lips (whether or not I’ve heard them before) is entirely engrossing.
Beginning the set with a delicately serene rendition of ‘Cherry Tree Carol’, Lanegan starts as he means to go on with a number of perfectly executed covers from his 2013 Imitations album. Whether delivering ‘You Only Live Twice’ with a modest grandeur or putting his unique, husky stamp on the classic ‘Mack The Knife’, he makes each and every song his own, creating an ethereal atmosphere that sweeps over the hypnotised crowd.
With the exception of the esteemed multi-instrumentalist, Duke Garwood, joining the stage for one song, the set simply comprises of Lanegan accompanied by Jeff Fielder, delivering a wonderfully intimate, acoustic performance. As his skeletal frame hunches over the microphone, strumming an invisible guitar with his delicate fingers, Lanegan exudes an eerie beauty incomparable to any other artist I’ve seen. And, with evocative lyrical storytelling to match, my personal highlight of the set is the hauntingly affecting ‘Phantasmagoria Blues’:
Now if you found a razorblade
And took it to your wrist
Then I’d be here in my electric chair
Because of this.
All last night and night before
I stood on the pier and cried
But I don’t want to turn away
For fear of going blind
And that’s it, I’m speechless. Completely overcome by Lanegan’s alluring darkness.