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.