No disrespect to Greg Dulli but the reason to be riveted during the acoustic set at the Showbox last night was his musical partner Mark Lanegan.
On the surface, this shouldn’t have been true. Both of them sat at center stage. Dulli was in great voice, talked to the audience, played keyboards, harmonica, and guitar, and generally kept things rolling along. Lanegan rarely looked up, smiled once (despite himself), never spoke, played no instrument, and sat through the show with a stoic expression that suggested if not annoyance than tolerant discomfort, as if he were wondering why all these people in the audience were necessary when there were songs to be sung.
But when those songs were sung—a disparate mix and not too many, as it turns out, from Dulli and Lanegan’s Gutter Twins effort Saturnalia—you could feel the crowd waiting for Lanegan to open his mouth and envelop them. They howled every time he started in to sing.
People used to refer to singer Mel Torme’s voice as The Velvet Fog. Lanegan’s sound is velvet that’s been torn apart, leaving only The Fog—including the possibility of summoning up all those deadly ghosts who wandered through the John Carpenter horror film of the same name. It’s a voice filled with portent and a sort of broken power.
It’s the voice of a man in a music industry that consistently shoves boys at us. Lanegan is not a boy. Lanegan will not be immaculately mussing his hair and pretending he wants to have sex with you. Lanegan has seen some things and, if you shut up, he’ll share them with you.
In "All I Have to Do is Dream," one of the evening’s eclectic encores (which also included Cole Porter’s "I Get a Kick Out of You"), Lanegan’s low rumble evoked a dream more real than the Everly Brothers imagined. Because Lanegan, probably more than we’ll ever know, seems to understand both what it’s like to be asleep and how hard it is to be awake.