[GIG REVIEW] Kiran Leonard @ The Lexington, London 04.04.2016

Kiran Leonard is super clever. And that’s not just because he’s managing to play the part of emerging indie darling whilst simultaneously studying for his degree at the Oxford University. His music is super clever- lyrically, rhythmically and harmonically. Whilst legions of slacker-garage-rock fans might turn their noses up at the ambitious and complex way Leonard chooses to tell his perverse musical stories, there’s no denying the artistic talent and dedication evidenced in his weird and wonderful sonic creations. Seeing him live is the most startlingly apparent way to recognise this.

A full to capacity Lexington eagerly await for this young man to take to the stage and blow them away, such has his reputation travelled. The people next to me say they discovered him at a festival, walking past a tent and simply having to go in and check out what on earth was making that sound. Since then they’ve been hooked, and it’s likely a similar story for many of the people in attendance. Take to the stage he does, and as is commonplace his opening track is one his most recent singles. However, as is not so common this recent single is the 16 minute long mind-melt-fest ‘Pink Fruit’ from his recently released second album ‘Grapefruit’. 

Photo Credit Nigel Kinnings

It proves an exhilarating way to begin the show, with the numerous dynamic/rhythmic/stylistic u-turns executed perfectly throughout by Kiran and his merry men. Merry men who spend the entire show bundled together in a 3 on the left side of the stage watching Leonard out on the right, scanning for cues as to when exactly their frenetic axe-wielding conductor will signal the transition to the next ‘movement’.

More of these zany maths-psych songs come and go, keeping the crowd enthralled throughout, touching on reference points ranging from Jeff Buckley, to Mercury Rev, to tech metal (purely in the  glitchy-style of the guitar and drum work- but hey maybe he is a huge fan of Trigger the Bloodshed and Knights of the Abyss).  There are times when the relentless skittishness and intimidating rhythms begin to verge on the cold and calculating, but there always seems to be a release into a softer and more emotional eye of the storm around the corner, one highlight being the repeated line of ‘I know it seems false, but I would do anything’  just over halfway through ‘Don’t Make Friends With Good People’, a track which clocks in at a concise 9 minutes long.

The high-point of the set for me comes soon after Kiran manages to charmingly and competently deal with an overzealous heckler in his soft mancunian drawl, as two of the more chilled out gems from his back catalogue get an airing. The organ lead ‘Bowler Hat Soup’ highlight ‘Port-Ainé’ and then most recent single ‘Secret Police’, which bears a passing resemblance to Radiohead’s ‘Pyramid Song’, and is also reminiscent of the best cuts from Sufjan Steven’s imperious ‘Illinois’ album. Perhaps it is because of the stark contrast they bear to the hard-thinking-inducing (whisper it softly) prog nature of the preceding songs that the softer and more approachable tunes filter through more easily to strike a soulful chord.

There is however a limit to the outsiderness that Kiran showcases as he conforms to type and chooses his most straight-up ‘rock’ number to close the main set in ‘Geraldo’s Farm’. Whereas on record the plonky synths make it sound like the song could be sound tracking an early nineties video-game (no criticism!), when stripped back to guitar, drums and bass live it takes on an almost classic rock life of its own, complete with cheesy tongue-in-mouth introductions to the band during a breakdown, before the symphonic finale.

Photo Credit Nigel Kinnings

It’s an explosive ending that a mind-expanding show deserves, however it’s not truly the end as Kiran comes back to charm the crowd further in a solo encore (well I say comes back, but he never really leaves the stage “I’m not very good with encore etiquette”). The two tracks he plays include one cover, ‘60s number ‘His Actions Speak Louder Than Words’ by The Tammys, and ‘Bowler Hat Soup’ opener ‘Dear Lincoln’, stripped back to a solo guitar a vocal performance. However, it’s still not simple. 

As he himself admits “I tend to over complicate things”, as he fiddles with the notionally straightforward chords. It reminded me of something I’d read him saying, that he is a bit disdainful towards people who claim that a good song can only ‘come to you’ and that it should simply happen. Kiran Leonard thinks otherwise and works hard and experiments to create the music he puts his name to, and it is this music that has kept the full room at The Lexington hanging off of his playing and singing from the first note to the last.

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