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:: The Leisure Society :: Sarabeth Tucek ::
09 May 2011 / Band On The Wall / Manchester
By David Edwards

The rustic nature of a smaller-scale gig is something that, like a good wine or the fact that all food doesn’t necessarily require ketchup, you only tend to appreciate with the onset of maturity (I have some somewhere, I’m sure). For most folk, the first gig experience is a bright lights; big crowd; glitter and glowsticks; NASA approved lighting rig. Something of an audio-visual orgy to tantalise, tempt and tease. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that: shows and spectacles are necessary and appeal to the inner child within us all. But after a time, you’ve kinda seen it all. I mean, there are only so many times you can see enormous flamethrowers (My Chemical Romance), flying UFOs (Muse), insane light shows (Chemical Brothers), Levitation (Slipknot) and on-stage murders (Eminem. Though I assume it wasn’t real. Those crazy hip-hoppers; what will they do next?) without a certain sense of ennui developing. It’s like eating an all-chocolate diet. Sure it might sound fun; but before long you are lackadaisical, bored, nauseous, spotty and overweight. And then congratulations: you are the target audience for The X-Factor Live Tour. Nice one; well done….

So henceforth, standing in Band on the Wall while watching members of The Leisure Society lugging huge boxes of vinyl, T-Shirts and bags is a gloriously down-to-earth experience: a collective sigh of recognition for anyone who has ever been in a gigging band. See, this may not be the epitomy of luxury but it is the edge of the coalface seam: where the true nuggets are on unearthed. Major tours are the lifeblood of modern music. Major tours are where a band take local success and assumed success (radio play etc) and attempt to spread their message across the country and beyond. And whether it is the enthusiasm; the drive and desire or the sheer grit and determination, it usually manifests itself into something wonderful. Music really resonates at this frequency and wavelength: it’s big enough to know, it’s small enough to make you feel a genuine part of something. It is the very model of what makes live music so fundamentally thrilling. And Band on the Wall do it extremely well. You can be through watching a great performance and then within minutes, be stood next door talking to the artist. I love that; I really do.

Sarabeth Tucek, currently garnering a deserved amount of critical praise and hushed whispers for her excellent second record ‘Get Well Soon’ is clearly not interested in making a big scene. She semi-sits; semi-slouches on her chair, slightly dwarfed by her Gibson SG guitar, occasionally looking up and contributing minimal stage banter. She simply doesn’t need to. Her voice, songs and effortless class are more than enough to entertain any crowd and illuminate any room. There is little room for over-sentimentality in her songs; they are simple and delicate tales with unexpected musical twists and nuances of emotion. She is flanked by her supporting guitarist who contrasts her simple, unadorned electrical strums with immaculate fingerpicking and piercing runs of lead. The skill of her live performance is how she can sound sweet and pretty for so much of the time but at the turn of a line, her lips purse, her vowels harden and the whole tone of the song shifts with an understated power; rising to a point of threat but never aggressive. It is intelligently and deliberate in construction, the tracks punctuated with hallmarks of dragged and drawn emotional toothmarks but surrounded by kisses on the skin as well. Playing with a relaxation that means we could easily be sat in her living room, she draws us into her net while the playing of her partner pulls musical chains tightly around us. Remarkably lovely.

I hadn’t actually listened to The Leisure Society prior to reviewing their new record “Into The Murky Water” a few weeks back. The most striking thing on first listen was that I hadn’t heard anything that pretty, happy and carefree in so many years. Live, they are exactly the same, faithfully reproducing the giddy romanticism of their new record (indeed, they kick off with three tracks from the new album). But whereas many bands confuse the line between happy and twee, The Leisure Society stay firmly in a patch of blissful joy. What they do so well is to combine brilliant instrumentalism and musical complexity in a way that ends up sounding wonderfully simple and free, when in fact the construct behind the creation is quite masterful. There is no agenda; no tricks; no subliminal message. Just swathes of glorious melodic sustenance and satisfaction. The set draws heavily from the new record with ‘Dust on the Dancefloor’ and ‘You Can Keep Me Talking’ being particularly striking but the sombre beauty of ‘The Darkest Place I Know’ and ‘The Last of the Melting Snow’ reaffirmed and reproduced from their first record are wonderful counterpoints to the more carefree moments. They work well precisely because they are excellent and sensitive musicians who write beautiful songs and sieve them through a sieve of simplicity to ensure that the end product is rich, but easy to assimilate. And then they play them with a freedom and a sheer joy: pretty much everything they do is pleasing, including a celebratory cover of Paul Simon’s ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’. I haven’t smiled so much at a gig since watching Brian Wilson at T in the Park 2005. An absolute treat from a rare and special band.

After the show, I have the pleasure to speak to Sarabeth and a couple of member of The Leisure Society (including their multi-instrumentalist Helen who I might be in love with if I wasn’t so utterly professional). We chat in a relaxed, carefree way as he many fans gather round to buy the merchandise and offer their congratulations. There’s no idolatry and no pretension; just people passionate about music talking together: fan and creator. It’s something people forget: famous musicians are just ordinary people with an extraordinary skill (well, most of the time. I suppose there’s just no accounting for the existence of 30 Seconds to Mars with the possible exception of loosely-prescribed medication, too much weed and repressed shame). The MEN Arena is just round the corner from here and in 10 days, I’ll sit with 16,000 other people watching Roger Waters. I’ll enjoy it; sure. But I’ll barely be able to see, the sound will be muddy and as for meeting him after, I’ll probably be escorted away long before I get to inform him of my complex, alcohol-honed allegorical theory of ‘The Wall’. Big is just big. It doesn’t necessarily mean better. There is the feeling of experience and then there is the feeling of simple, beautiful euphoria. Occasionally the twain can meet (Blur at Glastonbury 2009 is the first thing to pop into my head) but most of the time, most people happily gaze and gawp at cathedrals, without realising that the true passion, piety and dedication is observed at the smaller churches of the parish.

The Leisure Society
Sarabeth Tucek

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