My first visit to City Varieties, and I’m in awe. It’s a spectacular theatre, which has been lovingly restored and has the most comfortable seats of any theatre I can recall. It’s intimate, yet architecturally remarkable, and its hard not to feel a sense of occasion as the lights dim for Lyenn, who it later transpires is a member of Lanegan’s touring lineup.
With imperious signs around the venue placing a blanket ban on any kind of photography, filming, or recording and being seated in row L, I immediately plot this as a ‘words only’ rev
The first thing that strikes is the quiet intensity of the performance. It’s just one man with an electric guitar up on that high stage, and he’s playing the most minimal compositions, the notes barely dabs on the strings of his guitar, sometimes nudges, scratches, scrapes. Trepidatious, sparse guitar and haunted vocals – so hushed and introspective as to be barely there at times – are the defining features of the performance. It’s so quiet in the auditorium, and the sound is so clear that you can hear epithelials slough on steel.
My mind wanders a moment, and I recall being told by someone somewhere that theatres have considerably better PA setups than gig venues, as they’re designed to accommodate orchestras performing classical scores. For music this quiet, and this intimate, it really works, and what’s more, the audience evidently feel a sense if occasion and obligation, and as such, o-one speaks, and phones are kept firmly in pockets.
Lyenn is far from conversational, but in quietly intense, focused, and possesses a magnificent capacity for delivering vocals that soar and swoop and open a passage to the soul. Its so delicate so nuanced, so much about the detail. For the last song, he picks what I believe to be a lute from the rack, and it produces a mellow, ethereal, picked instrumentation to augment elegiac vocals delivered in an other-wordly tone. Rapturous applause ensues as silence falls.
Everything above applies to the headline act, but amplified to the power of many. Duke Garwood strolls on, dapper in suit jacket and mumblingly announces a track from Black Pudding…. ‘Black Pudding’… before unfurling intricate flamenco-inspired pick work and textured undulations before the rest of the band walk on to an enthusiastic reception and the song develops into ‘Pentecostal’ from the same album. That’s about as much audible dialogue we get from one of the most unconversational acts you’re likely to encounter. And so the shape of the set begins to form.
Lanegan and Garwood have now recorded two albums together, which they play in their entirety and in sequence in a set of two halves in what contrives to be a set of epic proportions. This does mean that, even with the use of steady, old-school drum machine rhythms to propel a number of songs, like ‘Mescalito’ early on and throughout the course of the set, the tempo remains slow, the vibe low-key for the duration. Seated, comfortable, there are moments I find myself drifting out of focus as the rainy, background blues, so, so minimal drifts from the shadows
Inexplicably, the bars have closed before the interval, and the queues for the venue’s 6 lavatories are immense because everyone in the ¾ full venue has waited patiently and politely before ducking out. But amid confusion and frustration, we all return to our seats in time for the band to take to the stage once more to perform the latest album, ‘With Animals’.
Again, the execution is meticulous, and not once do they break the flow or the sell to engage with the audience, who sit, rapt.
The encore consists of a Langegan song (‘I Am the Wolf’) and a Garwood song (‘Burning Seas’) before they depart for a third and final time and the lights come up once more. It’s been a faultless performance, delivering two full albums – their entire recorded collaborative output and ore – and spanning almost 2 hours: there’s no chance anyone can leave feeling short-changed here.