KIRAN LEONARD / IRMA VEP / THE EVIL USSES – The Nest, Bath – Saturday 2nd April 2016
Kiran Leonard is a force to be reckoned with. At the age of 20 and while still a student he has already put out two albums, in addition to numerous other tracks that can be found on his Soundcloud account here
He’s gained kudos from BBC 6 Music (Marc Riley in particular is deeply smitten) and XFM, and the new album “Grapefruit” ( the follow-up to 2014’s “Bowler Hat Soup”) is receiving rave reviews from what seems like the entire blogosphere for its poise, originality and – let’s be clear – for rocking like a bastard.
“Grapefruit” has been a long time in the making, many of the tracks having been road-tested, tinkered with and developed live (like the Pink Floyd used to do all those years ago until they got fed up with being bootlegged). There are certainly a few of the tracks played tonight that have changed noticeably – for the better in all cases – since I last heard them played live a year or so ago.
(BTW a couple of tracks from the album are featured on Beat City #72 featuring “Grapefruit” by Kiran Leonard plus a few more tunes you may like)
Kiran takes the stage so quietly you’d hardly notice, straps on his guitar,removes his shoes and without a word the band dive straight into the astonishing 16-minute “Pink Fruit”, an excerpt of which is included below, one of two extended multi-movement pieces on the records and comfortably the most complex of the manby complicated tunes in the set – no poncey warming up with the easy options here.
You may have heard “Pink Fruit” on the radio. It goes through at least five movements that I can identify. This music seems to have come out of nowhere, although if pressed I’d say there are hints of Frank Zappa and maybe the likes of Gentle Giant and King Crimson, next to Jane’s Addiction and maybe the art-rock with a hint of grunge of dEUS.
Kiran stands stage left and side on to the audience, like a conductor facing his band which consists of a violinist / keyboard player, bass and drums. There are some seriously challenging arrangements for the players in this music, and the band are more than up to the task. I’ve never seen such a well-drilled band playing such complex music.
And this IS complex music, make no mistake, but crucially, its not complicated. There are arrangements in 5/8 and 13/8 time here, but you never find yourself thinking “ooh thats clever” – its always the song that’s important, and its always the song that wins through.
And you NEED these odd time signatures to create the effects Kiran Leonard is after. I honestly don’t think anyone has done anything like this before although I stand to be corrected on this.
And then there’s the guitar playing. No mile long guitar solos here, and equally no five minute wig outs on the one chord,but short, violent outbursts as and when required – Richard Thompson is the closest reference point I can hear. Like Dave Tattersall’s work with the Wave Pictures, it enhances the song, it isn’t the point of the song. Course, if you’re a songwriter of the quality of Tattersall or Leonard then that always helps.
Kiran’s songwriting indicates a refusal to be pinned down to any one musical idea for any length of time. Musical motifs swirl in and out of the songs at will. The light and shade is masterful; yes, there is a comparison to be made with grunge but where Nirvana and their ilk were working in black and white, ranging from very quiet to very loud, Leonard and his band visit all points inbetween as well.
Both support acts are pretty good – Irma Vep, who Kiran and members of his band provide the backing for, and opening the show, Bristol-based instrumental band The Evil Usses, who I thought were tremendous, bringing to mind Zappa and Beefheart as well as the Pink Floyd and Pigbag, none of which is ever a bad thing)
My personal fave tune of Kiran’s is “Don’t Make Friends With Good People”, a nine minute plus tune which starts with layers of kids’ TV folk guitar, breaks into a brutal section at which the Gang Of Four would nod approvingly before moving into an extended Tim Buckley strumscream, then finally ending with a prog explosion King Crimson may have achieved circa 1972.
The final track is his signature, “Geraldo’s Farm” , a song which builds and then drops away again them builds again to the most shattering of sonic climaxes you could wish to hear.
There’s a surprise encore – a cover version, no less – as Kiran plays a solo guitar-backed version of sixties girl-group The Tammys “His Actions Speak Louder Than Words”. Got to admit I wasn’t expecting that at all, it all adds to the puzzle and the enigma that is Kiran Leonard and his music. I did capture it on my phone but the sound quality was dire and there were EVIL PEOPLE TALKING, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE so you’ll have to make do with the classic original for now, shut your eyes and imagine.
If you’re quick and near Ramsgate, Cambridge or Nottingham you can catch Kiran and his band on tour this week. He’s also playing the excellent Dim Swn one-day multi venue fest in Cardiff on Saturday (April 9th).
And check out the “Grapefruit” album, it really is a leap forward in the gene pool of underground music. I haven’t quite got my head round its intricacies and references yet and I think it’ll be a while before I do, but I’m looking forward to getting to know it. Come back in six months for the review.