Screaming Trees Come Screeching Back With Grunge

Screaming Trees' retro-fied set includes songs from their recent album, Dust.

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you closed your eyes at the Screaming Trees show

at Club Townsend on Friday night, you could have easily been transported

back to the grunge glory days of 1992.

The Screaming Trees may have traded in their plaid flannel shirts and cut

their hair, but musically, they still embody the Seattle scene from which

they emerged in the early '90s.

Taking the stage following a self-indulgent, rambling opening set by

ex-Minutemen and fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt, the Trees slammed into "Halo

of Ashes," filling the air with the grunge-rock sound that their small, but

dedicated, following had come to hear.

Bathed in red and green light, lead singer Mark Lanegan delivered a moody,

engaging performance. He rarely addressed the crowd and seemed welded to

his mic stand. The mostly twentysomething crowd reacted to his demeanor

with a sense of contained emotion, although Lanegan's stance made him look

more like a self-conscious model than a singer.

The Screaming Trees' set highlighted material from their most popular

albums, including 1992's breakthrough release, Sweet Oblivion, and

the more recent Dust, which came out in 1996.

The crowd's intensity went through the ceiling when the band launched into

its most familiar tune, "Nearly Lost You." Guitarist Gary Lee Conner,

dressed in a bright-red button-down shirt, displayed an energy that belied

his hefty size, jumping around to the beat and flailing his right arm like

an out-of-control windmill a la famed Who axeman Pete Townshend.

Compared to the inactivity of Lanegan, Connor resembled a kid with a bad

case of Attention Deficit Disorder who had forgotten to take his Ritalin.

The tight, synchronized jamming of guitarist Josh Homme and bassist Van

Conner further accentuated Lanegan's morose demeanor. Taking their cue from

the Conner brothers, more than 100 fans transformed the dance floor into a

sea of gyrating bodies. The enthusiasm lasted throughout the set as the

band continued to deliver its old-school grunge rock, including such

memorable numbers as "All I Know," "Butterfly" and "Dying Days."

As the band returned for its encores, Van Conner knocked back a Corona,

took a drag from his cigarette and reminded the delighted crowd that the

Screaming Trees "came to play." The Trees then churned out six more tunes,

including "Julie Paradise" and "Shadow of the Season."

The highlight of the encores was the debut of a new song, "Ash Grey

Sunday," a mix of piercing guitar riffs and heavy drums that seemed to be a

not-so-distant cousin of the sound that made the Screaming Trees an

integral part of the grunge scene. While that song and other new material

were marked by Lanegan's smooth, throaty voice, it all seemed much the same

as the band's standard rock attacks.

However, this constancy appears to keep some of the concert-goers loyal to

the Screaming Trees. "What I like is that they are true to their sound.

They take two guitars and turn 'em all the way up," said Tom Delgado, 27,

of San Francisco.