Live Review: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, 31st July 2007

Leeds City Varieties. Support: Euros Childs and Dave

This happened quite a while ago (nearly a month), so I am going off memory here. Despite the City varieties hosting a surprising amount of gigs from cultishly popular bands in the last few years, this was the first time I had ever been to the theatre. It shouldn’t have been, as I would like to have seen the once-mighty Sigur Rós here in spring 2002 (alas I was out of the country, and they went down the pan shortly after), but it was.

As I had missed Lanegan performing with Soulsavers in Manchester just prior to this, I was eager to get the fullness here. (Actually, I’m not sure how much I did miss on account of I have never heard Soulsavers, and they might not be much cop after all.) To be honest with you (like I spend the rest of my time lying to you. I’d never do a thing like that), I wasn’t all that enamoured with the Lanegan/Campbell album, but I figured I had to see him perform at least once this summer, I’m sure their album is better than I give it credit for, and I just wanted to go, OK? Besides, their duet ‘Why Does My Head Hurt So?’, from Isobel’s Time is Just the Same E.P., was a beautiful piece of work’; easily one of my favourite sub-three minute songs ever. Ever.

So, after an ickle drink (and large curry), it was time for the gig. I tell you, I want to go to more concerts at the City Varieties, even for bands I don’t particularly want to see, because the interior is adorable in a slightly run-down, cosy, Victoriana kind of way. The opening act was an entity going by the moniker ‘Euros Childs’ and, having never heard of this ‘Euros Childs’, had no idea whether it was a man or a band. It turned out to be a combination of the two, and I just wanted to see it based on nomenclaturial awesomeness. I later learned he was in/was Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, a fact that means little to me at present on account of I have never knowingly heard GZM.

Regardless of who he was, he turned out to be quite the engaging performer on this night. Introduced as ‘Euros Childs and Dave’, two men walked onto the stage and went about their business. Childs was immediately engaging thanks to his witty line in awarely incompetent banter: ‘this song is about… no, it’s from when… no, it’s about…’

The songs themselves were endearing, too, as they muddled along generally on electric piano; nursery rhyme melodies and minimal backing. Sometimes ‘Dave’ would play acoustic guitar while keeping time with a bass drum, but the pairing worked best when he would back the Roland piano with his own little musical box of tricks. He would add seemingly random countermelodies that would make the overall songs sound like off the wall theme tunes to kids’ shows; it was fantastic and bizarre.

The highlight for me came late on in the set: ‘Look at my Fridge’ (‘it started out as “Look at my Boots” – no it didn’t. It started out as “Look at my Fridge”, then changed to “Look at my Boots”, then changed back to “Look at my Fridge”’) was a faux-naïve catalogue of items of his that we should look at. In what seemed to be a subtle parody of the Pussycat Dolls, the question was posed re: our wanting items like that; ‘don’t you wish you had a fridge like me?’ He apparently wrote it on a whim for a toddle-aged relative. I want to see him again.

With his set over, and me very entertained, Campbell and Lanegan soon appeared on the stage. Having just got hold of a new camera, I was eager to snap at least one shot of the performers, but was overly concerned with not bothering my fellow punters (I hate it when people snap, snap, snap, viewing the gig through a makeshift window). I got it in the end, even if it isn’t the greatest photo ever taken.

As I said earlier, I hadn’t made much time for their album, so approached the performance as a bunch of stuff that was new to me; anything else would be a bonus. And it was fine. I was disappointed that they failed to play ‘Why Does My Head Hurt So?’ (after termination of this set still their finest song by some way), but what they did play was fine. There were times when the almost impossibly fragile Campbell seemed as though her voice would be crushed under the (lower in the mix) force of nature that was Lanegan, but the perilously fine line was walked with some success.

The songs from the album were faithful, in as much as they were enjoyable, far from life changing, and forgotten soon after. As I believe gigs are pretty much all about the moment (which arguably renders my writing about them rather redundant), I didn’t mind that last factor so much. They also performed new songs, all of which had apparently been written by her chubby, middle-aged guitarist (most of their band was reassuringly chubby and middle-aged). They were, to be quite honest, weak songs. Bland and far more forgettable than the rest of their songs, this was trite material which, in the vocal chords of anyone other than Lanegan, would have neared offensive in their inoffensive mediocrity.

Which brings me to Lanegan in general. I’m not sure at which point this happened, but I was overjoyed to transcend my usual gig-experiencing practice for most of the set. I stopped caring how good the songs were, or even really that there were songs. Ditto Isobel and the rest of the band. I had a minor epiphany as I realised the combination of seats, cosy environ and clear PA system was perfectly conducive to focusing like a laser on Lanegan’s voice.

It is, after all, what he is famous for, with fans ranging from Josh Homme and P.J. Harvey to Gavin Rossdale and, frankly, anyone else who has heard him. His is a deep, full voice, of a quality that renders pretty much anything it recites enjoyable. So I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb, as it were. I just listened to his fantastic, one of a kind voice, and it was aesthetically and spiritually uplifting. My reverie was aided by his performance of songs I actually knew (OK, so I cared a bit about what he sang after all); I was greatly heartened when he played songs I consider to be ‘his, even though they were covers: ‘Carry Home’, ‘Little Sadie’, ‘I’ll Take Care of You’: all classics, all now his, and all magnified by performer, performance and setting. For those few songs, this set was nigh-on perfect.

And it ended at some point. Campbell had muttered the odd word between songs, Lanegan had said nothing. Some complete cretins tried making him say something, under the mistaken ostent of humour, but he resisted their charmless shouts. (Indeed, I wonder quite why these idiots were even bothered about Lanegan saying anything, when he was singing in front of them anyway, a deed he does to far greater effect than ninety-nine percent of extant performers. Oh, that’s right – they’re idiots.) Lanegan doesn’t need to say anything when he sings like he does. See him whenever you can. I know I will from now on.

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