If you’re happy and you know it…KOKO, London (February 21)
Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli have shared a stage before. As members, between them, of Screaming Trees, Afghan Whigs, QOTSA and The Twilight Singers they’ve spent the best part of two decades cross-pollinating each others’ projects like sluggish dervishes. It’s a bond born out of friendship as much as commercial necessity, and musical kinship over simply being caner buddies (and caner buddies they certainly have been). This long-plotted collaboration as “the Satanic Everley Brothers” only came about, finally, when an Italian journalist revealed to Dulli, second-hand, that he would indeed be collaborating with Lanegan on a project called The Gutter Twins.
Four years after that, the album they’ve made together, ‘Saturnalia’, is a lurching and lugubrious delicacy that mixes the duo’s readily hypnotic dirges through oceans of soul with a Mercury Rev-ish fantasy soundscape. This is only their third show, but they’re earning considerable more interest together than they usually do apart. And, after Great Northern’s set of swirling Flaming Lips-style rock, it’s time for them to justify such attention.‘Idle Hands’ mixes Lanegan-standard desert soul with pungent eastern flourishes, while ‘All Misery/Flowers’ sounds as gruff and seductive as any Lanegan track ever. The set is stretched out over two hours – hypnotic or trying, depending on your boredom threshold. These are serious men, and they expect to be taken thus – there’s no chit-chat. At one point Martina Topley-Bird, the smoky chanteuse who’s been popping up all over druggy rock music since Tricky’s ‘Maxinquaye’, makes an appearance to sing on blackly magical ‘The Body’. What holds everything together is the strange imbalance between this narcotic Bert and Ernie. Dulli does the lion’s share of the work, throwing his latent energy into his guitar and shapes into the crowd. And yet it still isn’t his show – Lanegan just stands there, as Lanegan does, growling like a werewolf, but completely inhabiting that place in the gut of a song that plenty of musicians don’t even realise exists.
The crowd-pleasers come out – ‘Papillon’ from Dulli’s Twilight Singers and a demonic reading of Lanegan’s ‘Methamphetamine Blues’ – and dispel any remaining doubt: while they may be in the gutter, these two are looking down into the blackest, bleakest chasms in the centre of the Earth. And it’s blinding.