Saturday, January 27, 2007

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan Bristol 25th January 2007

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – St Georges Bristol – 25th January.

Isobel Campbell’s soft tones are darting around the black hole of Mark Lanegan rasp as he sings “the flame that’s burns’. The crowd is in rapture, clapping along with some spirited prompting from Isobel Campbell. It’s a new composition for the crowd to absorb and the first signs of something stirring up on stage. A spark at last in evening that was threatening to hang suspended. Mired in good intentions but lacking soul

The genesis of The Ballad of Broken Sea’s, written and arranged by Campbell with Lanegan adding his vocals in America, always posed the question of chemistry. How would a studio based project recorded by vocalists in different studio translate on stage? How well do they know each other? Would it gel?

They wandered onto the stage at St Georges to loud applause from the eager crowd. They are a striking pair up on what once had been an altar. Lanegan in his scuffed apparel, dark denim, a menacing presence. His frame and manor mark him out as dark avenger, Harry Powell in The Climate of The Hunter singing the Nick Cave song book. He struggles with the mike stand extending it up reach his height. Isobel Campbell’s looks slight, a furtive, benign jumble of June Carter Cash and classical musician. Dressed in an emerald green 50’s frock and a fetching pink bow tied around her waist. A chair and a cello beside her position on the left of Lanegan.

Revolver opens the show but fails to ignite. Lanegan voice is even deeper live, a low rumble. He grips the mike and stares out into space, his baritone as dark and bleak as a murder victim’s grave. It fills the empty spaces, the hidden hollows in this old church with ease. Unfortunately Campbell ’s voice seems paper thin in contrast, getting lost in the wide open acoustics of the cold stone walls.

It wouldn’t be an issue if there vocals blended as sweetly as they do on record. The light and shade is missing, only Lanegan’s darkness seems to have turned up. The opening tracks are underwhelming. A combination of nerves, lack of familiarity and the difficult atmosphere of St Georges ruining any chance of building a momentum.

There is no audible communication between Isobel and Mark, they look lost, like a couple on a first date or an aging partnership after one hell of a row. It gets worse. Lanegen keeps disappearing off stage. Maybe he is watching Celebrity Big Brother. Maybe downing a drink or ten, as you can’t bring them into the stage area. He could be doing both at the same time, it would be more entertaining that the opening section of the gig.

During one of Lanegan’s absences the gig starts to take flight. Reaching for a series of notes at the top end of her range and missing them Campbell visibly relaxes. It dawns on her that she can take risks and fail. Fail and not be rebuked by the audience. Her confidence blossoms and the mood improves markedly. There is a lightness in her voice, a playful skip in her step.

Lanegan returns and they rattle through a couple of well chosen covers. Bob Dylan’s Little Sadie has been previous recorded by Lanegan and he comes alive during the delivery. The version of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s Sand is enlivened by a funky little stylophone solo from Campbell . It helps that the stronger cuts from The Ballad of Broken Seas are keep over to the end. The Circus Is Leaving Town is tight and focused, the riff bouncing off the heads of the congregation. Honey Child What Can I Do finally delivers on the promise of the LP. The voices blend perfectly, they soar upwards alive with a passion. Then its over, a beaming smile from Campbell and a wave from Lanegan. A great end to an imperfect gig.

Tony Heywood (c)

Isobel and Mark Live in London on the same tour....