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Pop Music Review

A Dark and Gothic Set From Mark Lanegan

November 18, 1998|MARC WEINGARTEN

Mark Lanegan has an old man's voice trapped inside a young man's body. The frontman for the Seattle quartet Screaming Trees and part-time solo artist may very well have the deepest baritone in rock--it seems to rumble up from the subterranean depths and then burrow into Lanegan's diaphragm. For his solo performance at the Troubadour on Sunday, Lanegan wrapped his gravel-throated croak around downcast songs shrouded in despair and self-doubt. Call it grunge gothic.

Lanegan has always maintained two distinct approaches to songwriting. Whereas his work with Screaming Trees tends to emphasize big, beefy guitar hooks and the traditional verse-chorus format, his solo work is considerably darker and more internal. At the Troubadour, Lanegan stood stock-still behind the microphone with his eyes closed while the band (which featured ex-Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd) played three- and four-chord progressions that lurched and crawled with hypnotic, feral power.

There were no obvious peaks and valleys during Lanegan's set--instead, he supplied all the necessary dramatic tension with his hellfire-and-brimstone imagery and his band's subtle variations in volume and tempo. If there was any drawback to the set, it was Lanegan's refusal to make some kind of connection with his audience. His withdrawn stoicism is more compelling on record than it is on stage.

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