Seattle rocker brings out a softer side for tour’s opening shows

Returning several years after his first tour here, the respected peripheral American rock act Mark Lanegan, formerly of the Seattle band Screaming Trees, will launch a 20-date European and North American tour in Athens this Thursday night before playing a second Greek show in Thessaloniki the following evening. Since emerging in the mid-1980s as the frontman of the Screaming Trees – one of the first Seattle bands to sign with a major label, but which never enjoyed the widespread popularity of fellow Seattle bands, and friends, Nirvana or Soundgarden – Lanegan juggled a solo career along with his band’s commitments until its breakup in 2000. Throughout their career, the Screaming Trees were notorious for drinking, fighting, and temporary splits. Interestingly, Lanegan’s solo work differs from that with the Screaming Trees. His own work, on six albums to date since 1990, has employed a more acoustic tone and addresses more serious, personal concerns. By comparison, the material with Screaming Trees was far more abrasive. But unlike many of the group’s Seattle contemporaries, which seemed heavily guided by hard-rock prototype acts such as Black Sabbath, the work of the Screaming Trees fused ’60s psychedelia and garage rock with ’70s hard rock and ’80s punk. Despite the considerable critical acclaim Lanegan has received for his solo work, the deep-toned and imposing vocalist and songwriter of solemn material always seemed to keep the Screaming Trees as his music’s first priority – until their breakup. The original plan for Lanegan’s first solo recording was to do an EP of blues songs with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Chris Novoselic and Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel. The plan didn’t work out and «The Winding Sheet,» Lanegan’s solo debut album, was recorded with Pickerel, guitarist Mike Johnson of Dinosaur Jr, and included a cover of the Leadbelly folk song «Where Did You Sleep Last Night?» from the aborted sessions with Cobain and Novoselic. The version became the basis for Nirvana’s rendition on «MTV Unplugged.» The acoustic dirges on Lanegan’s first solo album introduced a softer yet emotionally intense side to the usually more belligerent rocker of the rowdy grunge world. Ahead of this latest tour, Lanegan has released an EP titled «Here Comes That Weird Chill,» his sixth solo release, following his most recent album, «Field Songs,» two years ago. Over his 13-year stretch as a solo artist, Lanegan has avoided stylistic shifts and remained a steady and inspired supplier of blues-and-gospel tinged country rock. Thursday at the Gagarin 205 Club, Athens (205 Liosion, tel 210.854.7600-2); Friday, Mylos Club, Thessaloniki (56 Andreou Georgiou, tel 2310.551.838).