“Thanks very much for coming. We appreciate it.”
Aside from the actual songs, those were the only words spoken by Mark Lanegan the entire night during Soulsavers’ tour kickoff at Portland, OR’s Wonder Ballroom Sunday night. Of course, Lanegan’s latest project isn’t really a between-song-banter kind of band. Soulsavers is the creation of U.K. production duo Rich Machin and Ian Glover, who’ve mixed gospel and country with electronic music over three full-length albums. It’s pretty moody stuff. However, the live representation leaned more toward the visceral fracas of Lanegan’s lauded grunge-era outfit Screaming Trees than the spacey dirges found on the new Soulsavers record, Broken.
An echo-y guitar intro started things off before Lanegan emerged from behind a curtain bedecked in black from head to toe. The band led off with “Ghosts of You and Me” from 2007’s It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land.
The years have been kind to Lanegan, whose smoke-stained baritone boomed above everything else — even the bass guitar. And the show was definitely about him, whether he or the band liked it or not. By the second song, a cover of Gene Clark’s “Some Misunderstanding,” members of the audience had already situated themselves right below Lanegan, and one female in the crowd had already handed him a bouquet of roses.
The six-piece band stripped the fuzz away slightly for “Jesus of Nothing” and “Rolling Sky,” both of which featured the angelic vocals of keyboardist Rosa Agostino, a.k.a. Red Ghost, the Aussie siren who performed on Broken and is joining Soulsavers for its entire 15-date tour. With notable contributions on the album from Will Oldham, Mike Patton, and Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes, it should be interesting to see if there are any surprise appearances on the tour. One can dream.
On this night the band charged through 11 songs, including an interesting cover of ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” For its two-song encore Soulsavers returned sans Lanegan for “By My Side” before he took the stage for the stark “Revival,” and sounded like a down-on-his-luck gospel preacher singing in an Oklahoma dust bowl.
Lanegan stood stoically, gripping the microphone stand the entire night, moving only to take a swig of water between each song. Not that it was a bad thing. It kept the focus on the music, whose simultaneously soulful and stoney dimension was only punctuated by Lanegan’s legendary rasp. It’s those vocals that have made Lanegan a go-to guy with bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Gutter Twins, his project with Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli.
It’ll be interesting to see where Lanegan’s name pops up next, but if Sunday’s performance is any indication, the rocker has truly hit the mark with Soulsavers’ dark, wind-swept soundscape.
“Ghosts of You and Me”
“Jesus of Nothing”
“You Will Miss Me When I Burn”
“Kingdoms of Rain”
“Jesus Just Left Chicago”
“Hit the City” (from Lanegan’s Bubblegum album)
“By My Side”