Uber producer Daniel Lanois’ latest project, Black Dub, rolled into Portland, Oregon for the final stop on their short west coast run on Wednesday 2/3. Lanois is famous for getting his jumpstart on U2’s The Unforgettable Fire thanks to his friend Brian Eno and subsequently cultivated U2’s massive sounding and massively selling sound on each future album with the exception of Pop. He reignited Emmylou Harris’ career in 1995 with Wrecking Ball and has been a workhorse over the years making his own heralded solo albums while coaxing sonically impressive albums from Neil Young (Le Noise) and Bob Dylan (Time Out of Mind).
Playing to a packed 600 seat Aladdin Theater Lanois and his band lured the crowd into their cozy lair with a mix of material from Black Dub’s wonderful self titled debut and Lanois’ previous solo work. It is obvious Lanois chooses only to surround himself with the highest quality musicians. Drummer Brian Blade, he of a history with Dylan, Bill Frisell, and Wayne Shorter, is an understated spectacle behind the drums with a fluid, vibrant style. Breathing the music into wondrous pockets of syncopation he combined with vocalist Trixie Whitley, (daughter of the late bluesman Chris) to simmer and expand songs from the album all night. Whitley nearly stole the whole show with her resonant voice and vulnerable yet dynamic stage presence. Juxtaposing a reserved, almost shy demeanor with a lively assertiveness as soon as she began singing, her vast and powerful tone appeared to arise from the ether. It is a haunting and world-weary sound that shone brightly on album track “Surely” where she may have broken a few hearts with a quick glance and vulnerable lyrics. Whitley also proved to be quite the multi-instrumentalist partnering with Blade for a drum duel during the captivating dub funk of “Last Time”. Lanois “The Maker”, from his solo debut, 1989’s Acadie, proved to be another highlight as the band slowly whirled into a triumphantly yearning gospel groove.
Lanois seduced cascades of delicate power from from his guitar all night. His massive hands grip the guitar with grace but he unleashed sharp power while slashing the instrument with his thumb and forefinger, pick-less. It is a somewhat angular yet robust sound, both his guitar playing and Black Dub as a band. Interlocking rhythms manage to tussle smoothly, creating a bob and weave of reggae, gospel, and post-rock. “Ring The Alarm” was the third song of the night to feature strong improvisation as the band channeled a bit of Tortoise complemented by an Alicia Keys-like intonation of the three word chorus.
It is unclear if and when Black Dub will return to the road but their warm creativity is always welcome here in Portland. Here’s to hoping Lanois keeps this project together for albums to come.