Once before Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan were the oddest pairing that could be placed together. Six years and three albums on, such considerations seem distant. Their collaborations spanning folk, blues and lo-fi rock have been some of the most original in recent times. Here at the Barbican promoting their superb new album, Hawk, we find the duo backed by a full band and with a certain Willy Mason in tow.
Lanegan troops onstage somewhat aloofly, wearing his signature black denim threads and sporting a messy looking side parting. His 46 years are starting to show, with a clumsy looking hunch in his posture and even more haggard look fixed on his face. Campbell stands to his right, contrasting in her white polkadot dress, knee high tights and vintage bob.
They open with the dramatic film score-esque first song on Hawk, We Die And See Beauty Reign. The more carefree Americana leanings of You Won’t Let Me Down and the bluesy Snake Song follow, charging the set steadily before a mesmerising rendition of Come Undone.
Lanegan and Campbell’s onstage pesonas differ intriguingly. For all his years as a performer, Lanegan looks ill at ease in between songs, fidgeting and staring everywhere but at the crowd, occasionally turning to Campbell and swapping screwball grins with her.
Campbell’s bubbly girl next door persona charms as ever. She engages in banter with the audience, joking that she’s had too much Red Bull in a bid to imitate Lanegan. Although she probably would have needed stronger stuff, and in vast quantities.
Willy Mason’s unplugged support slot was surprisingly indifferent, but his return onstage to duet with Campbell on the wistful ballad No Place To Fall had shades of Johnny Cash and June Carter. Focus then shifted to first album Ballad Of The Broken Seas, where the fusion of live instruments (cello, bass, guitars, maracas, keyboard) and the interplay between Lanegan’s grizzly delivery and Campbell’s whispering tones tied together impeccably on the likes of Revolver.
Ramblin’ Man’s dirty blues swaggered about the hall delightfully whilst Devil Dirt‘s best song Back Burner led a psychedelic march which was just as rewarding.
Few perhaps would have expected the Campbell and Lanegan project to be anything more than a one off but, as their catalogue testifies, with its rich pickings and the live performances to go with, at the core of it all is a unique magic which emanates from their ongoing association. Long may it continue.