Tuesday, May 10, 2011
THE LEISURE SOCIETY @ BAND ON THE WALL 9 May 2011
My only knowledge of Sarabeth Tucek before tonight was confined to a few plays of this year’s album "Get Well Soon". I missed the beginning of her support slot here and walked into a reverentially quiet but small-in-numbers audience. Tucek and guitarist Luther Russell were both seated – she playing electric guitar with a delicate downward strum that was so casual it appeared absent-minded whilst Russell pulled an amazing array of sounds out a simple acoustic guitar. But what really held the attention was Tucek’s mesmerizing voice, deep, steady and projected to the back of the room without barely trying: Cat Power with a distinct country twang, a more poetic bent and a deep understanding of the early 70s singer-songwriter oeuvre. I might have only caught 25 minutes but it was more than enough to tell me I need to complete my homework on Tucek and fill in those gaps in my knowledge.
“C’mon you murky bastards” came the enthusiastic shout as The Leisure Society took to the stage, an unsubtle reference to second album “Into the Murky Waters” released last week. Now The Leisure Society strike me as neither murky nor bastards. Instead the seven-piece Brighton band project a polite, English coastal gentility perfectly suited to their exquisite Ivor Novello award-winning pop classicism. And in publicity shots they look more like a well-dressed Oxbridge boating party than a down-and-dirty touring band of dubious parentage. However if not exactly murky there is a bittersweet undertow to their songs and I was intrigued to see how this would all translate live particularly in the setting of Band on the Wall. This much-loved Manchester institution has managed to hold on to its jazz / reggae-dive bohemian heritage despite a spanking smart Lottery-funded makeover (the broad appeal of both band and venue was reflected for me in the span of ages and of T-shirts on show – from Daniel Johnston to Mott The Hoople by way of My Morning Jacket).
Tonight The Leisure Society boat party was in dress-down mode: open-necked shirts, deck shoes and Converse. There was a relaxed feeling to proceedings despite the evident concentration of the band on the intricate arrangements to these multi-part songs and the fleet-of-foot versatility required: in the blink of an eye three percussionists would appear before equally swiftly returning to cello, violin or flute. Between songs band leader Nick Hemming concentrated on tunings: if it was perfectionism rather than reluctance or shyness it never interfered with the smooth flow of the evening and allowed keyboard player Christian Hardy to lighten the mood with casual banter (“this is just a fucking good song”).
The set neatly mixed songs from the new and the older albums. And which stringed instrument Hemming played told you want to expect: ukulele for the sparser, more twee numbers from the first album such as ‘The Last of the Melting Snow’ or ‘The Sleeper’ (the latter complete with elegant, gliding strings), acoustic guitar for the ballads (‘This Hungry Life’) and wide-bodied Gretsch for the more rocking numbers mainly from the second album. Yes that’s right ‘rocking’. True The Leisure Society were not going to turn in a live set of intense, pulverising noise but ‘This Phantom Life’ and ‘Dust on the Dancefloor’ had an intensity I was not expecting – more feisty than ferocious. And a side of the band I would like to have seen more of – it suited them and was a delicious foil to the more precious numbers.
The final three songs – all segued into each other – returned to this feistiness (the hoedown at end of ‘Save It For Someone Who Cares’ could have been spun out with ease). A Paul Simon cover as part of the encores was fun and continued the upbeat, celebratory mood but I found it lacking compared to the depth and complexity of their own material. A summer of festival appearances awaits The Leisure Society. Even if the weather is foreboding and the ground muddy, you wouldn’t bet against this polite bunch winning more fans over with these distinctly unmurky sounds.
The Set List:
Into The Murky Water
This Phantom Life
The Hungry Years
We Were Wasted
Dust on the Dancefloor
You Could Keep Me Talking
The Darkest Place I Know
The Last of the Melting Snow
Better Written Off (Than Written Down)
I Will Forever Remain An Amateur
Save It For Someone Who Cares
Just Like The Knife
Me and Julio Down At The Schoolyard
A Matter of Time
Posted by The Archivist at 9:04 p.m.