Monday, March 10, 2008

The Gutter Twins w/Great Northern @ First Ave(03.08.08)


So, I swear I saw Mark Lanegan smile on Saturday night. It was brief, but it was there-he smiled at something Greg Dulli whispered in his ear, but then it was gone, replaced with the stone faced stare that I have seen many times from Mark since I first saw the Screaming Trees live in this very same nightclub back in 1992. So, after seeing him smile, I just wished that I could have heard him sing more than he did. Right from the set opener (and the opening track on their excellent debut album ‘Saturnalia’) ‘The Stations,’ Lanegan’s gravelly vocals were somewhat buried in the mix, hidden behind the weary, strained voice of Greg Dulli, who was left to be the frontman/cheerleader of the band due to Mark’s complete lack of stage presence (unless you consider gripping the mike stand tightly with both hands having a stage presence.) Perhaps it was the early show time that had the band annoyed-their show the night before at the Metro in Chicago didn’t start until after 1 a.m.(a time that I think the band is much more comfortable with) while the show here started at 8:30 (have to make room for Too Much Love, right First Avenue?), but the band appeared disinterested and somewhat listless from the start. The songs sounded good, but the passion and energy was lacking. Strangely enough, it took a cover song to build the spirit of the set-the band’s rollicking cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Live With Me’ finally got the crowd energized, and from then on, other than a few songs where the enthusiasm waned a bit, it was quite an enthralling show.

The backing band, comprised of two guitarists, a keyboard player and a drummer, were serviceable and competent, but the real stars were Lanegan and Dulli, who rightfully stood front-center stage all night, with Dulli trading off guitar and keyboard duties, all the while puffing heavily on cigarette after cigarette, and Lanegan standing motionless gripping the mic stand, growling at the audience. ‘Idle Hands,’ the album’s first single, really propelled the show with it’s driving guitars and dark refrain, while ‘Bête Noire’ really allowed Mark to sing without matching Greg’s much higher pitch. The show was lagging just a bit, when another cover breathed new life into the set-‘Down The Line’ originally by Jose Gonzalez, was fantastic, really building momentum until the ‘Don’t Let The Darkness Eat You Up’ coda of the song elevated everyone in the building. And with emotional album closer ‘Front Street,’ the band thanked the crowd and left.

Knowing that they played a nearly two-hour set in London last week, I figured we would have quite an encore, and the band didn’t disappoint, playing eight more numbers, including a wonderful version of Lanegan’s ‘River Rise’ that was worth the price of admittance alone, and a forceful, boisterous version of ‘Methamphetamine Blues,’ that allowed Lanegan to unleash his singular, raspy voice. And it was at this time that I found myself wishing that I could hear a whole set of Lanegan material-he is sitting on so many hits, it’s tough to be in the same room with him and not hear him play some more of his songs. But alas, it was a Gutter Twins show, and Gutter Twins songs were what we got(other than the occassional Twilight Singers songs and the covers) . Not that that is a bad thing, but for me there was too much Dulli and not enough of Lanegan during the set-both in the mix of the sound and the songs selected.

Due to a discrepancy between the showtime listed on the tickets(7:30) and the actual showtime (a little after 7) First Avenue was pretty empty when Great Northern came on stage. The California band really seemed to be dressed for the cold, with gorgeous lead singer Rachel Stolte buried under the hood of her parka for the early part of their set, only taking her coat off after the third or fourth number. The fans that were in attendance greeted each song with warm applause, as if trying to make up for the sparse crowd size with their cheers. And the songs, culled mainly from their excellent album ‘Trading Twilight For Daylight’ were good, especially ‘Telling Lies’ and ‘Just A Dream.’ The bands warm, breezy rock songs stood in stark contrast to the often darker material of the headliners, but Great Northern really started the night off right, it’s just too bad more people didn’t get to see their set. I was able to explain the time discrepancy to Rachel after the show, hoping that the near empty club didn’t get the band down and how much I enjoyed their set, she was grateful for the compliment, understanding that the people were there for the Gutter Twins. But they will be back in Minneapolis, playing to larger crowds soon enough.

Erik T.

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