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The prospect of moody singer-songwriter Jonneine Zapata opening up for Mark Lanegan and Soulsavers seemed like a winner.
As it turned out, Redghost, the first act, was probably the highlight of the night. And that should say something, since her solo set consisted of smokey vocals over guitar loops, delivered to an audience that eventually resigned to chatter. She did, however, inspire me to coin a rule—let’s call it Harry’s Law—in which an audience will be politely receptive to solo artists, but if attention isn’t kept rapt, the audience will grow chatty in proportion to the setlist’s length. By song five of Redghost’s set, at least half of the show’s attendees were talking amongst themselves.
Jonneine Zapata, female Jim Morrison mixed with P.J. Harvey, came next. Zapata, while a great singer, was a little more scary than sexy, a little more dramatic than melo. Her band played bar fare, and the drummer could only play slow or everything at once, but the audience seemed to love it. As I watched, I wondered if she might decapitate a bat with her teeth, but the set instead peaked with a stripper-style strobelight—alcohol to her already lowered inhibitions. After the show, when Zapata had changed out of her pumps and into comfortable sneakers, she seemed totally normal, if not pleasant. For Zapata, a better balance of personality and performance must be struck before she will seem real—to me, anyway.
The same problem plagued Lanegan and Soulsavers; they warmed up the crowd for about one minute before the Frankenstein-sized singer lumbered onto the stage. Throughout the show, an aloof Lanegan did his thing—making sour faces as if the mic tasted like earwax—and turning his back to the audience between songs as if to withhold sex from a needy partner. O&B writer Ophelia later asked me, “Does he really hate life that much?”
I will say this, something I’ve always believed: Mark Lanegan’s voice is sublime. It’s no wonder that he has stopped working solo and now sells himself as a living, breathing musical instrument. Unfortunately, in this capacity, he’s about as exciting as a player piano.
And while the hulking beast’s vocal cords (among other things?) are probably 12″ bigger than the average man’s, the usually reliable sound at the Casbah failed to lift his baritone above the din of Soulsavers’ overplaying; if there was expression in his singing, it was drowned out by three guitars and incessant soloing.
The rest of the band tried to look as menacing as Lanegan, but at best pulled off silly. I began to lose interest when the guitarist on stage right couldn’t get his lighter to work, threw his cigarette to the ground in raw anger, and then crouched in his corner for the rest of the song, oscillating in the nightmare of his craving. Before the next song, as the bassist across the stage fired up one of his own, the withdrawn guitarist made sad puppy eyes and mimed Can I borrow your light? but the already nic-fixed bassist ignored him.
Lanegan’s over-understated toughness led me to believe that he could’ve bashed the entire band’s heads together in one fell swoop, and no amount of cigarettes smoked defiantly indoors could change that. Meanwhile, the lead guitarist played excessively long and technically questionable guitar solos, making faces that were at times Eastern Promises Viggo Mortensen and at others SNL-era G.E. Smith.
Soulsavers saved their best song—and the best song of the evening—for last, the excellent “Revival”. Kinda wish I’d seen it; it sounded full-bodied and harmonious—like Lanegan’s best work—and the Casbah’s system sounded good for the first time all evening. But I’d already made my way toward the back, having had my fill of overwrought stage theatrics from the band, and sourpuss scowls from Lanegan, who kept looking at me like he wanted to fillet me.