Kiran Leonard

Kiran Leonard


Due to late arrival at the Eagle Inn tonight, Kiran Leonard and band have to set up and soundcheck in front of a sold out and expectant room, and it’s both telling and enlightening to see how this unfolds. The standard soundcheck process tonight is both familiar and yet unorthodox. Instead of the classic microphone check of “1-2, 1-2-3..” we get “2-6-3-4-1”, while the democratic equilibrium with which the 4 musicians on stage trade and settle the balance of monitors shows a level of care and mutual respect that is a little out of the ordinary. What unfolds next explains why.

The performance of ‘Pink Fruit’ that opens the show tonight will always be etched in my consciousness. The recorded version of this sprawling sixteen minute conceptual piece marks a tremendous leap forward in both ambition and delivery from Kiran’s 2012 album Bowler Hat Soup, which was possibly one of the most eccentric and interesting records of the last few years. To my uneducated ears in some sections the new record can veer into pretension, but I fully accept this is due to a lack of understanding on my part of what is being done, and the structure, influences and ideas being brought to a new audience. In a live context however, the song takes on a whole different character. There is a sharp and lucid fluidity throughout and each section builds, ebbs and flows in intensity, merging into an ecstatic orgy of sounds. The collective quality of musicianship on show is exceptional. Whether they are delivering a Sonic Youth like squall of noise or some more complex math-rock contortions the clarity and precision of the groups delivery is remarkable. The band perform facing each other as much as the audience, and the connectivity between them is tangible as they follow Kiran’s lead through this journey.

As the song concludes, they take a few minutes to allow us to regroup and catch our collective breath. During the pause a call from the crowd to repeat Pink Fruit is met with the response “There’s not enough hours in the day!”, a reflection of the wit and intelligence of the man, as well as his wholehearted investment in his music.

The remaining 6 songs of the evening include a beautiful organ led rendition of ‘Port-Aine’ and a blistering finale of ‘Geraldo’s Farm’ (the soundtrack to the best car chase ever?), and all reinforce the invention and creativity on show. Standout moments for me were a single phrase of guitar line of such beauty that a lesser artist would die for, yet tonight this is offered as a thread of an idea that is never to be repeated but just brushes over us. Then there is a section of sonic intensity, where layers of guitar build and build until there seems to be nowhere left to go, but then it is ratcheted up again and again, not louder but denser. It’s like flying through a lightening cloud until the tension is dispelled with a shower of warm chords while Kiran bellows in soft regret.

As for Leonard himself, his performance is compelling, his body twists and contorts as he summons and expels his emotions into the room. He seems simultaneously agitated and calm, coiled around his guitar and microphone, and it is endlessly captivating to watch. He pulls his voice and guitar into unfathomable places, producing a detuned and beautiful blues and it sounds utterly unique. I wonder what he is hearing in his head,  and if he has sold his soul to the devil like a latter-day Robert Johnson.

He has described his own music as “semi -literate pop nonsense”. It’s anything but, and perhaps it is all too easy for him. One thing is for certain: Kiran Leonard has the fierce intelligence, humour and supernatural talent to take his music anywhere he chooses: It’s going to be an interesting ride.

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