Mark Lanegan Band, Islington Academy, London

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The Independent Culture

So cigarette-gruff and bourbon soured is Mark Lanegan's voice that it came as something of a surprise to see him reaching for the spring water rather than the Rebel Yell.

So cigarette-gruff and bourbon soured is Mark Lanegan's voice that it came as something of a surprise to see him reaching for the spring water rather than the Rebel Yell. Though still too young to be wizened, Mark Lanegan is a graduate of the Keith Richards finishing school for those who live for the mythology of the road.

Over the past few years, the ex-Screaming Trees singer has counted on moonlighting with the American underground rock gods Queens Of The Stone Age for extra income. In that period, Lanegan has also found time to work with artists as diverse as Auf Der Maur, Martina Topley-Bird, and Mondo Generator. Lanegan's new album, Bubblegum, features guest-spots from the likes of P J Harvey, and two ex-members of Guns N' Roses amongst others.

Tonight though, we are witness to that amorphous entity the Mark Lanegan Band. Shorn of celebrity cameos, it's a leaner and meaner outfit. Though a sell-out, the Lanegan faithful seem mystified by the concentration on Bubblegum. Arriving on stage late, Lanegan's crew bravely ignore the temptation to ring the ears of all present with fractious cacophony. Instead, the band opts for the short, gentle resignation of "When Your Number Isn't Up".

As it is with the new record, it's a curious way to begin. But then so many of Lanegan's songs seem like epitaphs for a time not yet over that continuous momentum is hard to build. Even the cathartic hedonism of "Hit The City" appears restrained and wistful. Much of the current album finds Lanegan carving a niche as a kind of Tom-Waits-in-leather-trousers. It's a style Lanegan wears well. The distressed lullaby of "One Hundred Days" has a rueful, afterhours reverie that even the Waits of Closing Time would find hard to match.

The voice, reeking of authentic rock'n'roll experience, achieves paint-stripping rasp on "Where's Willie John?" Bellowing "Who's gonna grieve, when you're gone? I once believed I'd never bleed, but Lord, I'm all alone tonight", Lanegan becomes all vengeful and blasting. It's true that these hard roads are well trodden, but Lanegan is such an apt guide its hard not to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

However, there are times when the audience remains almost studious in their appreciation. Revisiting the fine cover of Brook Benton's "I'll Take Care Of You" deserved more than mere toleration. Rightfully, back catalogue slow-burners such as "Resurrection Song" and "Fix" measure high on the clapometer, but at this point, Mark Lanegan is just too good to rest on past glories.

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