There are certain artists who never seem to get their due, underappreciated despite an undeniable body of work. Mark Lanegan falls into that category. A certain segment of folks only know him as the singer of the Screaming Trees, a band that had a brief shining glimpse of fame during the whole Seattle grunge movement of the early '90s. But Lanegan has never stopped recording and performing, either on his own or collaborating with others. He's released seven solo albums since 1990, including his latest, Blues Funeral, and has recorded with Queens of the Stone Age, The Twilight Singers, The Gutter Twins, Isobel Campbell, The Soulsavers and many others. His distinctive baritone is as worn as he is, solitary and gruff and soulful all at once.
Last Sunday, he visited the Paradise in Boston on a rare solo tour. I'd seen him with the Trees back in '92 and later with QOTSA, the Twilight Singers and the Gutter Twins; for the last three, he would appear on stage to sing certain songs and then disappear again, content to cede the spotlight to the likes of Josh Homme or Greg Dulli. But this time, it was all Lanegan, and he and his backing band didn't disappoint. It was Mother's Day, and the 'Dise wasn't quite full, but those who did venture out were rewarded with a terrific show.
Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss opened the night with a set of acoustic Americana, an interesting sound coming from two punk rock vets. Wheeler was the maniacal frontman of desert rockers Throw Rag, who opened for Lanegan and QOTSA when I saw them at the Roxy in 2005; Schloss is a punk legend, having played bass for the Circle Jerks and worked with Joe Strummer, Thelonious Monster and countless other artists, as well acting in Repo Man. Wheeler looks like he's been to hell and back, but he was very chatty and provided distinctive crooning while Schloss played his 12-string acoustic. Good stuff.
Lanegan and his relatively unknown backing band played a powerful and atmospheric set that spanned the lanky frontman's career, including eight of the 12 songs from Blues Funeral; standouts included the synth-heavy "The Gravedigger's Song," uptempo rockers "Gray Goes Black" and "Riot In My House" and the dare-I-say danceable "Ode to Sad Disco." But Lanegan also sprinkled in songs from all but two of his solo albums, with the biggest responses coming to tracks from 2004's Bubblegum: "Hit the City," "One Hundred Days," "Wedding Dress" and the night's closer, "Methamphetamine Blues," with its refrain of "Rollin' just to keep on rollin'." He reached back to 1994's Whiskey for the Holy Ghost with the bluesy "Pendulum" and while he didn't play any of the songs that made him an alt-rock star in the days of flannel, Lanegan snuck in two songs from last year's Screaming Trees album Last Words: The Final Recordings, as well as a Leaving Trains cover, "Creeping Coastline of Lights."
As is his wont, Lanegan was immobile on stage, gripping the mike stand like his life depended on it and saying little between songs other than the occasional thank you and once introducing his band. Nobody goes to see Mark Lanegan for the snappy stage banter. The man's there to sing, and sing he did. He's a national treasure and I'm glad I got to see him.