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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Relentless Garage, Highbury London
August 27th 2009

Isn’t it great when someone plays you music by a band that you’ve never really heard before and you just fall for it on the spot – like love at first sight? Especially when it’s one of your children.
That’s what happened to me in the late summer when I was lucky enough to hear some pre-release tracks by the Soulsavers, from their now released third album Broken. So taken was I by the very distinctive mournful groove that the band set up that I went out the following day and bought album number two: It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land. This is an immense piece of work which begins with ‘Revival’, quite simply one of the most mesmerizing songs I’ve heard in a long while. If ever there was a plea for redemption that we could all identify with, just a little bit, then it’s in this wonderfully powerful song. That it comes from the pen and lips of Mark Lanegan only gives the sentiment added potency. Lanegan, former Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age vocalist, one half of the Gutter Twins, and recent collaborator with former Belle and Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell, has, as they say, been through the mill. His journey from Seattle’s emerging grunge scene to Stoke-on-Trent’s Soulsavers has apparently taken him through more than a generous helping of all of the vices associated with ‘the rock and roll lifestyle’; “I drank so much sour whiskey I can hardly see” go the lyrics of one of his songs (‘One way street’ from 2001’s Field Songs), apparently not so much of an understatement,. Lanegan’s clean of addictions for now, there’s no drinking on stage, and apparently the after-show parties aren’t a lot of fun. But his singing is enough to stop you in your tracks, and if anything it’s better on stage than on the record.
Mark Lanegan
Mark Lanegan
And who are these Soulsavers? Hard to say, really. Originally a production and re-mixing duo from the Potteries, with a penchant for the electronic, they are Rich Machin and Ian Glover, who also have a successful sideline in writing film-scores. Their collaboration with Lanegan extends to their last two albums but has also brought in a host of other writers, musicians and vocalists, including Will Oldham, Richard Hawley, Jason Pierce and fellow-contributor’s to the latter’s Spiritualized. But in terms of style they have come a long way from their first album, and Broken has a distinctive guitar-led earthy blues sound which is even more emphatic performed live. Rich Warren, sometime of Spiritualized, Starsailor and The Cold Light of Day contributes much of the guitar on the last two albums, and is on stage wielding a frighteningly effective Fender Jaguar along with Machin (playing rhythm guitar and keyboards), and bass player Martyn Lenoble, Red Ghost on keyboards and vocals, and a sadly unidentified drummer. It’s Warren who almost steals the show with an insistent and aggressive performance that almost takes over from where Marc Ford, playing with Booker T Jones a few weeks before, left off. There’s lot of tremolo arm action, even more near-feedback and plenty of power. But that’s to discount Lanegan, apparently a foolish thing to do: “I would want Mark on my side in a street brawl. He’s one of those guys” said bassist Duff McKagan in an interview last year.
Lanegan follows the band onto the stage and takes a position in the centre which he occupies, almost unmoving, for the whole set. He’s not brawling, but he’s a big man, a powerful brooding figure swathed in shadow, who says nothing until he finally leaves the stage, post-encore, with a gruff but not grudging “Thanks very much”. The recently-refurbished Garage at Highbury Corner, it’s actually called the Relentless Garage but the only relentless thing about it is the heat, is full of record company types (one of whom very kindly got me the ticket, a rare piece of ligging on the part of your reviewer) and Lanegan adorers. They’re waiting for him, and although the gig only lasts sixty minutes they’re not to be disappointed. Broken
Any longer might either have been overwhelming, or over-doing it. The timing was perfect. As was Lanegan’s gloomy growl of a voice, as the band worked through songs from the last two albums, with the addition of an unlikely ZZ Top cover, Jesus Just Left Chicago. Highlights? Well certainly Oldham’s ‘You’ll miss me when I burn’, Gene Clark’s ‘Some misunderstanding’ and ‘Unbalanced pieces’, all from Broken. But the two special moments for me were ‘Jesus of nothing’ and the final encore, the aforementioned ‘Revival’. And it’s all about the intensity of the voice, matched by Warren’s tormented guitar. You know, there are times when you can hear more than echoes of the Alabama 3 in the sound of the Soulsavers, and you could occasionally think that Lanegan is pulling off a mean Larry Love impersonation. But for all their faux menace and outlaw behaviour there’s never a joke too far away in an A3 performance; that’s part of their appeal. There are no jokes with Lanegan and the Soulsavers. When Lanegan pleads for a revival, and for “this dark night to be done’, he really means it. - Nick Morgan.
Listen (and watch): Soulsavers featuring Mark Lanegan, promo clip for 'Revival'

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