The Leadmill has been one of the premier gig venues in Sheffield for many years, but the fact that it doubles as a night club means it doesn’t operate normal gig times. Tonight’s club night began at 10pm, which meant an early start for tonight’s gig. So it was that The Black Velvets strolled on to the stage to be met with just a handful of people at 7.15pm.
It was hard not to feel a tad sorry for the four-piece from Liverpool, but they put their heart and soul into their performance. In the mould of The Datsuns or Jet, they’re obviously hugely influenced by the ’70s, with each song boasting swaggering guitar riffs and drums that almost demanded to be stomped along to. Recent single Get On Your Life was an obvious highlight, but there were several other tracks that could easily be future singles.
With a drummer who has the whole ‘Animal from the Muppet Show’ act down to perfection, and lead singer Paul Carden throwing the right sort of rock star shapes, the Black Velvets are a definite band to watch in the next 12 months. Hopefully next time they play Sheffield there’ll be a packed crowd to appreciate them.
There’s traditionally been a problem with band members who go solo, especially if they’re not lead singers. So it was with some trepidation that I watched Nick Olivieri, late of Queens Of The Stone Age, come onstage. Olivieri has so much charisma though that any such worries are quickly dispelled. Stripped to the waist, sporting a heroic number of tattoos and with his distinctive shaved head and ginger beard, he was compelling to watch.
It didn’t get off to a great start. The first couple of numbers were acoustic songs and Olivieri’s voice was not best suited to such a stripped-down performance. As anyone who’s heard him on QOTSA records will know, he has a raw punky screech. Only the dark, self-loathing The Day I Die worked perfectly.
It soon settled down however, as members of the band joined him. Mark Lanegan made an oddly unheralded appearance for the Mondo Generator song Four Corners – Lanegan’s warm, deep voice acting as a wonderful counterpoint to Olivieri’s guttural scream. By the time he closed his set with a dark, intensely rocking number the crowd were more than warmed up for the main attraction of the evening.
Mark Lanegan is something of a legend. It’s a word that’s bandied about far too often, but it’s the truth when it comes to Lanegan. One of Kurt Cobain‘s heroes, his band Screaming Trees were one of the major players in the grunge scene, and his work with Queens Of The Stone Age has confirmed him as one of the best vocalists around.
That voice is best shown to its full effect on his solo albums – Bubblegum is one of the best albums of 2004, and Lanegan’s impossibly low throaty growl, so reminiscent of Tom Waits, sounds just as good live as it does in the studio. Many people have tried to give off an aura of ‘rock star cool’ on stage, but Lanegan manages it effortlessly. With the minimal amount of audience banter, usually stood stock still with a cigarette in his hand, he could possibly be the coolest man in rock.
The band (including Olivieri, this time thankfully covered up) crashed into Sideways In Reverse, one of the many highlights of Bubblegum – and immediately the audience were gripped by the power and intensity of Lanegan’s live performance. Gripping the microphone like his life depended on it while his band tore into the roadhouse blues of the song, this was a magnetic spectacle.
Some of the songs (notably the powerfully brooding Wedding Dress) sounded even better than they did on the record, and Hit The City, despite not having the benefit of P J Harvey‘s vocals, was an early stand-out point. Lanegan’s hirsute band were note perfect throughout the night, but it was the main man who grabbed all the attention, delivering wry lines such as One Way Street’s “I’ve drunk so much sour whiskey I can hardly see” or powering his way through a magnificent Methamphetamine Blues.
Although Bubblegum and its predecessor Field Songs made up the majority of the set, a few other gems lit up the set list. Olivieri and Lanegan duetted on the Queens Of The Stone Age number Auto Pilot to an ecstatic response from the crowd. Lanegan’s marvellous cover version of I’ll Take Care Of You was dusted down and the evening finished on an old Screaming Trees song, the epic Gospel Plow.
“Thanks for coming to see us, goodnight” mumbled Lanegan as he walked off, leaving the band to indulge in an impressive jam session for another five minutes. One of the major figures in ’90s American rock, Lanegan is the real deal – a fact which tonight’s gig easily proved.