Loping into town on the back of the excellent reviews bequeathed to latest long player Blues Funeral, Mark Lanegan and his grizzled band are in no mood to disappoint tonight. A typically understated welcome – a tilt of the shaggy mane, a trademark grimace – and the rasping excellence of opener The Gravedigger's Song is more alive, if at the same time even more down in the mouth, than its recorded cousin. Particularly in the wake of his work with Isobel Campbell, Lanegan is no stranger to either these shores or the ABC, but tonight there is none of the sweet and sour whimsy which came with that unlikely pairing, only the grungy modern blues of the two Mark Lanegan Band records, interspersed with a smattering of numbers from his 'solo' years as a rock and roll survivor.
Shorn of its studio gloss, Quiver Syndrome, which with its counter-intuitively merry whoo hoos is a bit sub-Dandy Warhols, changes to a thuggish, brute of a tune, Lanegan's voice so wonderfully lowslung that it smacks the diaphragm like a none-too-friendly punch; Ode to Sad Disco collects a clanking industrial sample in the chorus, ensuring its nice synth backdrop isn't too disco for the down on their luck numbers that surround it. The danceable beat even tempts something like a shoulder-shuffle move from the singer, which is as far as Lanegan goes when it comes to physically expressing any 'joie de vivre' on stage.
The big songs from previous album Bubblegum – Hit the City, Wedding Dress and stomping encore closer Methamphetamine Blues – are just as well received, the loose, but not too loose, skills of the band stepping up here as the singer takes holds of his mic stand as a sea captain might hold his wheel in the teeth of a bitter storm. A victim of Friday night merry makers, Lanegan only comes close to losing the thread when he lets the tempo drop and, as affecting and emotional as his remarkable baritone is, the crowd show little patience with the true funereal end of the singer-song writer's whip-throated, whisky-lashed repertoire.