Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Gutter Twins @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

13 August 2008

The Gutter Twins

The Gutter Twins

Tonight history is laid bare before us, as two of the elder statesman of American alt.rock deliver an evening spanning the length and breadth of their careers, as part of the ongoing celebrations for Sub Pop’s 20th anniversary celebrations. Mark Lanegan (originally of Screaming Trees) and Greg Dulli (once of The Afghan Whigs) are, as The Gutter Twins, the perfect couple to remind us of everything Sub Pop achieved when the label arrived into a languid and stagnant American music scene in the late 1980s.

Without it, we may never have escaped the hell that was Guns N’ Roses and Bon Jovi. And while pre-Britpop, the UK scene was just as dire at the time, they’re also the perfect couple to remind us of how completely, undilutedly, American the Seattle scene sounded. Make sure you get your history right, though: Afghan Whigs were Sub Pop but not grunge (nor from Seattle); Screaming Trees were grunge (and from Seattle) but not Sub Pop – except for one EP in 1989.

Keeping true to the reason we’re here, Change Has Come from that EP is the only time this evening that Lanegan delves so deep into his past. Dulli balances with one Afghan Whigs number: When We Two Parted, from 1993’s (non-Sub Pop) album Gentlemen.

The rest of the evening jumps around between their efforts of the last decade – four songs (Live With Me, Papillion, Bonnie Brae and Number Nine) from The Twilight Singers, a Dulli side project with which Lanegan also often performs; two from Lanegan’s solo album Bubblegum (Hit The City and Methamphetamine Blues); two covers (Flow Like A River and Down The Line, both by José González) and a lone offering from Lanegan’s other and perhaps more famous musical partnership: St James’ Infirmary, usually performed with Isobel Campbell.

It would be hard to think of someone less like Campbell than Dulli. Together on stage, he and Lanegan look more like a grunge legacy Mitchell & Webb, and it is perhaps for this reason that for the rest of the evening they stick mostly to the songs they have created for their incarnation as The Gutter Twins: eight out of 19 songs on the set list come from this partnership, from opener The Stations to Front Street, which closes the main body of the show.

Throughout it all, Lanegan’s gravel-scraped vocals soak through the darkness in which they deliberately hide, lit from behind by a piercing green light or bathed only in a deep red which never quite makes them visible and never quite gives them the spotlight.

From the staccato machine gun drums on God’s Children to the epilepsy inducing lightshow of Down The Line, to the fragility of When We Two Parted, they mix headbanging rock with dark country blues in a beautiful reminder of the way Sub Pop dragged the American music scene out of the gutter so subtly that the rednecks never even noticed.

The only criticism of the evening is that at five songs, the encore is perhaps too long – virtually a part two rather than a case of keeping the best until last, even though all five numbers are favourites from past projects. They alternate between songs from Lanegan’s Bubblegum and The Twilight Singers: Papillion, Hit The City, Bonnie Brae, Methamphetamine Blues and the stunning show closer Number Nine.

Shorter and sweeter might have had more impact but as gripes go, it’s a very minor one. As a reminder of what Sub Pop gave the late 20th century and an indication of what it has to offer the 21st, it’s been a thoroughly excellent night.

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The Gutter Twins @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London