Collaboration is one of the many lifebloods of music. Whether it is the exchange of ideas, the juxtaposition of styles or unexpected changes in direction there’s a long history of artists coming together for mutual benefit. This certainly applies to both Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood. Over the years they have maintained wide associations, pursuing various musical projects along the way.
This year’s With Animals album is their second release, following their debut Black Pudding from 2013. Tonight’s show saw them play both albums in full and in order. This tight structure and minimal interaction with the audience may have resulted in a gig that in some ways was relatively ‘straight down the middle’ but it also demonstrated their musical strengths and complimentary styles, Garwood’s multi-instrumental capabilities finding something of an anchor in Lanegan’s acclaimed baritone.
The begin with Black Pudding, Garwood opening the evening with a short guitar instrumental before Lanegan’s voice immediately cuts through the fog on Pentecostal. On War Memorial Garwood plays clarinet while Lanegan’s vocals become even more brusque and imposing. The crepuscular Mescalito follows, which also sees the first appearance of programmed beats. Sphinx unravels over less secure ground, Lanegan’s vocals showing more in the way of vulnerability, discreet and exposed.
Later, he plays melodica and adds loose notes from a double bass but it is undoubtedly his voice which claims attention, sounding like a rock shaped over centuries by wind, rain and sun. Driver strikes a more mellow tone and Thank You shows how they can conjure less familiar textures from their musical palette. It’s only really Cold Molly that misfires (although the crowd reaction tonight is universally positive – they clearly have a devoted fanbase).
With Animals is a less opaque album, with arguably a more managed and compact sound. Save Me sees them open with Lanegan pleading for liberation while Feast To Famine has him sharing how he’s “been from feast to famine, and all points in between, but I’m good for the damage, when you cut me I bleed” over gnarled guitar. It’s true – he may be battle-hardened but he’s a survivor and continues to flourish creatively (even if it is in the musical margins, predominantly documenting emotional hardship and struggle).
The higher pitch of Upon Doing Something Wrong conveys a greater tenderness but lyrically it’s still morose (“Sunday’s always painful, the mountain tumbles down, until I have you again”). The bluesy L.A Blue is archetypal Lanegan, gritty and full of lament. Scarlett is one of the highlights of the new album and tonight floats by on a gentle breeze. The title track is even better, finding itself crawling through the undergrowth, face muddied and hands scuffed. It may be bleak but it’s also incredibly beautiful. Desert Song may be a simple acoustic song to close with but tonight is instilled with greater gravitas in the surroundings of Union Chapel.
The short encore features Lanegan’s I Am The Wolf and Garwood’s Burning Seas. It puts a seal on an impressive show. Their musical portrayals of misery and darkness continue to be both effective and beautiful.