Duke Garwood’s opening set features a song called Disco Lights. Judging by his music, it’s unlikely the guitarist/singer who is from London but sounds like he’s stalked the desolate badlands of the Deep South for quite some time would voluntarily venture anywhere the dance floor.
Teetering precariously in the no man’s land between hypnotic and uneventful, Garwood’s material’s closer to circular mantras than fully fleshed out verse/chorus operations. A superbly rich guitar sound – half junkyard rattle, half strawberries and cream – keeps us captivated even when the tunes consist of a few skeletal chords and mumbling.
Garwood recently cut the collaborative album Black Pudding with Mark Lanegan (Driver and Mexicali off the album are amongst the highlights tonight), and he’s back on stage in the Washington State-born vocalist’s band tonight. As Lanegan’s near-faultless set ventures ever deeper into darkness, it’s easy to see the mutual musical attraction; the mirror ball hanging from the ceiling of the well-attended City Varieties has probably never felt as out of place as it does tonight whilst doom-laden American alt. rock’s official voice-for-hire of gritty authenticity – unchanged in tar-coated delivery or forbidding stature, with only glasses suggesting the passing of time – applies his expressive, exquisite growl to dispatches from the unsunny side of life.
More versatile than Lanegan’s entirely acoustic duo show in Leeds a few years back, the percussion-free, electric trio presentation shines the spotlight on Lanegan’s abilities as a songwriter and lyricist whilst still allowing a rich range of textures.
There are some minor issues. Garwood’s subtler contributions tend to be drowned out by the harsher tones of second guitarist Jeff Fielder, whose riffing also steps on the toes of Lanegan’s testifying during a majestic cover of On Jesus’ Program. Then again, the grizzled storm of guitar chords seems to suggest that the singer’s not necessarily bound for the heaven evident in OV Wright’s original once the final curtain is drawn. As Garwood garnishes a wounded version of soul weeper I’ll Take Care of You with a sparkling cavalcade of fluid licks, you wish for a few more opportunities for the guitarists to stretch out amidst tight arrangements.
But these are minor complaints. Taking in every part of Lanegan’s illustrious career as a solo artist and serial collaborator (only cuts recorded with Queens of the Stone Age are off the menu), the generous, well-paced and rapturously received set offers inspired renditions of such less often visited gems as Torn Red Heart (from most recent studio album Phantom Radio) and Phantasmagoria Blues (from 2011’s Blues Funeral). Shorn off their full band arrangements, the material sounds strikingly fresh, with the bleak, battered yet often unexpectedly beautiful lyrics proving a match for Lanegan’s carefully phrased, bruised croon.