Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan have recorded three albums together, but they’ve never toured the United States as a duo until now. They finally made their Chicago debut Friday night (Oct. 22) at Lincoln Hall. Campbell used to sing and play cello in Belle and Sebastian; Lanegan has sung with numerous rock bands over the years, including the Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, the Gutter Twins and the Twilight Singers (not to overlook his solo music, including the excellent 2004 album Bubblegum). Together, they sing chilled-out duets, with Campbell soft, wispy vocals whispering alongside the gruff half-spoken word that seem to be emerging from deep inside Lanegan’s chest. Their sound owes a lot to the 1960s records by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, and other musical acts over the years that have featured contrasting male-female vocal mixes. It’s enticing and beautiful, if somewhat sleepy, music.

That was exemplified with the stunning performance that opened Friday’s concert, the song “We Die and See Beauty Reign” (which also opens the third and latest record by Campbell and Lanegan, Hawk). Backed by a band of four musicians, the two singers performed the song in super-hushed tones, and the audience watched in utter silence. It was almost spooky how quiet it was. On their records, Campbell and Lanegan sound like lovers or friends whispering secrets to each other. That’s how they sounded in concert, too, although they didn’t look like that. The two spent most of the show, standing at their microphones, not moving around a great deal. They sometimes glanced across the stage at each other — Lanegan squinting or cocking his eyebrow — but didn’t interact a whole lot beyond that. But most of these songs are so low-key that the laid-back performance style seemed appropriate.

Midway through the concert, some audience members suddenly grew rowdy. A few guys yelled out comments about how sexy Campbell is — which she did her best to ignore. The rude shouting was an unwelcome disruption of the concert’s enchanting mood.

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The opening act was Willy Mason, an impressive singer-songwriter, who played solo-acoustic. He also made an appearance during the Campbell-Lanegan set, singing three songs with Campbell. (He also appears on a couple of tracks on Hawk.) The dynamic between Mason and Campbell was quite different from that between Lanegan and Campbell — he has more vocal range than Lanegan, and more of a country-folk sound. His mini-set brought some nice variety to the concert. / / /


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