Hailed as a genius in the making when his track Dear Lincoln and its accompanying album Bowler Hat Soup was released last year the then 17 year old Kieran Leonard was even touted as a spiritual heir to the relentlessly inventive Frank Zappa. Hmmmmm. Would tonight’s gig be more a case of Hot Rats or cold turkey though?
First up though, and rather brilliantly mis-billed as Top Peel on a sign downstairs directing gig goers to the right room, Mr TomPeel. Top Peel’s not a bad nom de plume for him actually, given his ability to move, amuse and, just occasionally, bewilder audiences...often all at the same time. Tonight was indeed, ‘top’ Peel though, with a first half of acoustic numbers including the thought provoking Salt and Pepper (you’ll never look at condiments the same way) and the sweetly yearning love song to Laura (Half French dontcha know). Act II saw Peel wrestle with a series of increasingly improbable musical props, beginning with a relatively modest Tascam Four Track (‘liberated’ from a school cupboard) and culminating in one of those portable TVs with a built in video player (via a reel to reel tape recorder strapped to his front) showing a film of Tom’s headless dancing bod. Quite how he manages to do all this whilst still carrying a tune and dancing around without rupturing himself is, quite frankly, one of the wonders of our time. Endlessly entertaining no matter how often you witness it tonight he really was on Tom...whoops...top form.
Next up, The Shalfonts, fronted by the exotically accented (well Norwegian sounds pretty exotic compared with Castle Bromwich) Bryn Bowen. He’s a star this bloke, putting in the kind of bug eyed, head thrashing performance, punctuated with laconic pause laden between song ‘banter’ that makes Jack Dee sound upbeat. There’s a healthy dose of US alt rock to many of their tracks, a little early REM here, some prime era Pixies there plus perhaps a touch of anti-folk hero Dufus (aka Seth Faergolzia) in Bryn’s vocal delivery and ‘giving it all ya got’ performance. Plus they’re signed to a record label called Giant Manilow, what’s not to love about that eh? Check out Netman and Bird from brand new album Grant Mansions for a decent slice of Shalfonts pie.
Shoeless and wearing odd socks, one of which sported a large hole revealing a couple of his toes, Kiran Leonard looks like the kind of dude who’s happiest spending all of his time playing music (as opposed to shopping for new socks say), which is something he seems to have been doing since he popped into the world a mere 18 years ago. This would explain tonight’s set which gleefully plucked stuff from pretty much every musical genre in history, plus a few that Kiran himself is no doubt working on in his bedroom. Eclectic’s too narrow a word. Just as you think you’ve got him nailed down as a post punker, he goes a little proggy, then folky...no jazzy...no rocky...no synthy...agggghhhh! It’s no good, labels just won’t stick to him which has to be good thing, right? Maybe we’re seeing the first signs here of an access all areas (of music) generation who’ve grown up with a pretty much limitless ocean of tunes and aren’t afraid to show it? Live Leonard’s vocals are every bit as 21st century schizoid as the music, veering from the soaring beauty of Jeff Buckley to the gutter sneer of Johnny Rotten and on to the grizzled growl of Beefheart, sometimes all in the same song. This evening Dear Lincoln got an airing, thrashier and rawer than the version that’s wowed the 6 Music crowd it still came across as one of his more commercial tracks, as opposed to Oakland Highball, an everyday story of a bloke abducted by aliens, shown the horror of the world projected into a chalice of water and then returned to earth only to top himself unable to bear what was effectively the weight of the world on his shoulders. It sounds even nuttier than that in reality, the sort of thing that Beck may have come up with during an acid trip party with Arial Pink. It’s the epic Geraldo’s Farm that steals the set though. One of the more coherent examples of Kiran’s genre splicing it’s underpinned by a simple repeated synth motif that somehow holds everything together as Leonard and the band (all of whom are seemingly equally fine musicians) spin off in all sorts of directions like a musical catherine wheel. One for the beard strokers, head bangers and prog munchers to unite over.
Where does he go from here? Anywhere he damn well likes. Old gits are constantly bemoaning the lack of genuine musical innovators, freaks and weirdos these days and, to be fair, they’re/we’re often pretty much on the money but you get the distinct sense that Kiran and co really could develop into the kind of band we’ve perhaps not seen since Zappa’s heyday. The Grandsons of Invention anyone?