The big promoters are the worst. Even if you photograph at one of the big venues (BEC or BCC) and it’s not sold out, you’ll always be escorted out after the first three songs, never offered one of the spare seats going unused. People seem to think photographers request to cover certain gigs for reasons other than that they’re a fan of the act playing. Even when the big promoters scale down to the smaller venues, they maintain their protocols. The only times I’ve ever had to sign a photo contract at The Zoo has been for one of the big promoters. Similarly, the only time I’ve been escorted out of The Tivoli after the first three songs was for one of the better known promoters. The same promoters are also always the ones that won’t confirm (or deny) your media accreditation until the very last minute and the ones, even at smaller venues, that will give you a time to meet their representative in the foyer and who will always have to escort you into the main room. They either don’t trust photographers to walk the few metres from the entrance to the photo pit, are all micro-managers or want to do anything and everything in their power to make sure that you, as a photographer, are made well aware of your utter insignificance and unimportance in the grand scheme of things.
Confirmation that I’ve been approved to photograph Mark Lanegan’s Saturday night gig at The Tivoli comes on Friday afternoon, with a set of instructions that includes a 9:20pm meet for a 9:40pm start (and no opportunity to see or photograph the support), as well as strict instructions not to photograph Mr Lanegan from in front of him, only photographing from the sides is allowed and we’re also told to remember to bring a long lens just in case we have to be well out to the side. On my way into town on Saturday evening, there’s a message that the start time has been moved forwards to 9pm and that we need to be at The Tivoli by 8:50pm. On arriving at the venue this changes to a 9:20 or 9:25pm start as they’re “waiting for everyone to get there”. In the meantime we get to wait in the foyer.
It’s depressing that Kimbra, Josh Pyke, and Boy & Bear have sold out shows at The Tivoli coming up and that one-time Australian Idol, and more-than-likely one hit wonder, Matt Corby has managed to sell out two nights. In the meantime, one of the definitive singers of the last almost 25 years, and someone with a mightily impressive body of work, plays to a few hundred people and with the upper half of the venue closed off. It’s a bit depressing, although many will have no doubt been put off by the expensive ticket prices of almost $80 by the time you added the fee for printing off the ticket yourself.
When the band comes out, for maybe the first 30 seconds, the light is difficult but better than it might have been. But by the time I’ve got my camera settings sorted, it’s been turned down to a level that is barely anything more than a very low light covering most of the stage. The rest of the band are shrouded in even more darkness than Lanegan except for the drummer, who is the best lit person on the stage. In these situations where the lighting is terrible, it’s always the drummer that gets the light. Always.
Before the show I had been thinking about how you can photograph him differently from previous times. When you’ve photographed an act a number of times you start thinking about how you can approach photographing it differently so that you make the most of the opportunity and don’t just end up with an almost identical set of photos to the previous images. I’ve photographed Lanegan on a number of occasions; at a couple of Splendours, the first time with Greg Dulli, the second with Isobel Campbell and a solo show at The Zoo but because of his onstage demeanor and stance, as well as the general lack of lighting, he’s a hard person to photograph and there’s not a great deal of variety in the photos I’ve taken of him previously. One hand grips the microphone tightly, the other holds on to the mic stand for dear life, he sings with his eyes shut and does all this in almost no light. When you photograph under difficult conditions, any notions of trying to get something ‘different’ tend to go out the window and it becomes almost a damage limitation exercise in trying to get at least one image that you can send through to accompany the review of the show. Tonight is a lot like that and after I’ve submitted the a selection of the ‘best’ images from the night, I get an email back commenting on how bad the lighting was.
No one expects Lanegan to talk between songs and this show is no different from any other times I’ve seen him. The first time he talks is maybe 8 songs in when he says “Thank you. Thank you very much” and other than introducing the band, all we get are another few thank yous and a thanks for coming at the end at the end of the set. It’s even left to his keyboard player/second guitarist to announce that Lanegan will be doing signings of CDs and posters at the merch stand in a few minutes after the rest of the band have left the stage at the end of the night. If I’d known I might have queued up but by the time I leave the main room the queue is stretching down the length of the building. Another annoyance of only being let in to the venue just before the start and escorted straight to the photo pit is that there’s no time to have much of a look at the merch stand as we’re whisked by.
With Lanegan performing the way he does, you question whether he really enjoys playing live in public or whether it’s just part and parcel of what you have to do, especially in the current climate, to make a living out of music. There’s no question of going through the motions, he visibly warms to the task in hand and becomes more animated and emotional over the duration of his set, but it would be vastly improved if he didn’t seem so disengaged from the audience. He doesn’t have to go the full Warren Ellis, just a few more words than “thanks”, an occasional story or anecdote, even introducing a song, would go a long way. It’s a good gig, heavy on the excellent recent Blues Funeral album, but with a few highlights from Bubblegum going down best with the crowd, and even an airing of Crawlspace from last year’s very posthumous Screaming Trees’ Last Words: The Final Recordings album, but it could be better but more of a human touch to better connect with the audience.