Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hush

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan are better known with their previous groups rather than as a duo that has now recorded three albums. Campbell was in Belle and Sebastian when the Scottish indie chamber pop collective was burnishing its cult reputation. Lanegan fronted Screaming Trees, which was one of the Seattle bands that gained prominence when there was an appetite for everything grunge. Belle and Sebastian means more to me than Screaming Trees--their albums Sweet Oblivion and Dust deserve fresh ears, though--so I was more excited to see Campbell in what promised to be an interesting concert Thursday night.

Their vocal contrast is quite pronounced. Lanegan possesses a gravelly voice capable of hard rock bellowing. Campbell's hushed, wispy voice sounds as if she's trying to tell you a secret and not let anyone else hear. The stage lighting emphasized this lightness and darkness, with Campbell in a bright spotlight and Lanegan looking like a younger Tom Waits shrouded in the dark or painted with red light.

Their approximately 90-minute set plus encore featured the slinky, often dark-toned songs that would feel at home in a lounge late at night. Backed by four musicians--Campbell occasionally played her cello and added some percussion--the two had their sides of the stage staked out, yet the physical distance between them vanished in their restrained and intimate singing. It was a striking example of how affecting the quiet can be as sheer power.

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