Isobell Campbell and Mark Lanegan at Lincoln Hall: Live review
Among the records one passes around while growing into a sophisticated student of ’60s music, Lee Hazlewood LPs are often the ones that will see us through well into adulthood—Lee and his collaborations with Nancy Sinatra ("Summer Wine," "Some Velvet Morning") have been a goldmine for ’90s gentleman balladeers such as the Tindersticks. Nancy and Lee might inspire for a song or two, few duos could cast a glow across an entire album of duets—they're hard to do well, it turns out, with that necessary romantic spark and push-and-pull.
Mark Lanegan, former Screaming Tree, and Isobel Campbell, formerly of Belle & Sebastian, sometimes edge into Nancy & Lee territory, but they're actually spitting off fireworks of their own that don't require deep references to totemic vinyl artifacts. The duo is on a national tour with a crack backing band—its first. Its set at Lincoln Hall last Friday night was head-and-shoulders above any live set I've seen in a club this year—it felt like something truly special. The collaborators have three albums to their credit, but the most recent, Hawk (Vanguard Records), is the greatest achievement. On it, the contrast between the two singers is most dramatic—Campbell's delicate breezes and Lanegan's rolling thunder combine in wonderful and varied ways. Sometimes as stomping Americana ("Get Behind Me") and also on desolate beauties from Townes Van Zandt. Folkie Willy Mason also shows up on the record, blending with Campbell less dramatically.
Mason played an innocuous opening set and dueted with Campbell for a middle section of the show. Lanegan stood statuelike and held the microphone stand with two hands singing deep and cavernous tones when he was on stage. He doesn't banter, which I love, leaving it to Campbell to charm.
As on record, the duo's vocals were the main attraction, but a find backing band that seems to conjure Serg Gainsbourg's psych experiments one minute and crack session team the next, held the whole shebang together. The acoustic guitar work, in particular, was beautifully restrained. Campbell took some solos on the cello that lent a further drama to selected tunes from the collab's three albums.
The magic in the air was thick. An enthused audience member somewhere shouted out for the two to get on with it and make offspring—not a bad idea at all.