Gig Review – The Leisure Society – Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 19/October/2014

The Leisure Society are one of those rare bands whom I am happy to see play live time and again. This was my third time seeing them do their thing on stage, and it was a big night for both the band and their record label. The label, Full Time Hobby, were celebrating their 10th anniversary, and the band marked the 5th anniversary of their wonderful debut LP “The Sleeper” by playing the album in its entirety, front to back. Yes, this has become a ‘thing’ in recent years, but the audience lapped it up, in no small part because this is an album with nary a bad song, and it is likely the album that ensnared many of us in the first place into becoming long time fans.

Their appeal is simple – classic songwriting mixed with wonderful instrumentation, warm harmonies, and a willingness to spread their myriad hooks across their line up, which includes a full time violinist and flautist. They have always been smart at using the line up they have; the flute and string parts often coming to the fore rather than simply underpinning their songs, layering extra “hummability” to their stronger songs. The balance of soft and loud, dark and light, also means their music doesn’t tire after endless listens. This live set benefited from solid sound engineering that avoided being needlessly loud, allowing the songs to breath.

They still clearly care for their debut album, lavishing each song with full arrangements and bringing back the cellist and backing singer from the original recording sessions for this one-off gig. The songs hold up wonderfully in concert, even the number they admitted to never having played live before. Indeed, they needn’t have mentioned this, as it was solidly played and the only nerves were ours as an audience after the forewarning!

Their lack of wider success in the market is certainly bewildering. One can argue that perhaps they are too smart for pop tastes, and too pop for smart tastes (so to speak) but neither argument is valid when other bands with a similar folk bent are riding high in the charts.

Their stage presence has come on some since the early days, the main back-and-forth between front man and keys player is smoother than ever and the remaining players are confident through their stoicism, swaying to the grooves and enjoying their work.

The sound was sublime, with clarity between the instruments vital for their setup, which included upwards of 8 players at a time. The Vox AC30 mid stage made me smile, an unsurprising, classic choice (I too love mine) for the clean-but-interesting guitar base tone. Ukuleles appeared out of the ether on more than a few songs – at one time 3 separate players sporting the lovable chaps at one time. Song transitions were smooth and professional, the banter short and warm. Granted, the blurbs leading into each song haven’t changed over the years, but then why would they?

The only quirks came with occasional forgotten lines, though these were glazed over professionally and cheekily regardless (to the point of almost purposeful error?!) and an oddly aggressive head banging stint from the front man during one manic crescendo – this was rather at odds with the crowd, music and the venue, and I couldn’t have been alone fearing he would trip or tangle on his guitar lead while drawing such crazing patterns with his footwork!

The audience was the typical South Bank fare. Entirely polite, quiet and engrossed. This is as civilised as live music  comes – at least in the popular music world. But despite the grounded nature, we were with them throughout. The Leisure Society are rarely a singalong band, even if many of us know all the words. Their sound isn’t to be tarnished by extra chorus, for better and for worse. I only hope the band are aware we care through our peaceful enjoyment.

After the album was finished, they returned for an extended double encore. We were treated to two new songs from the in-session fourth album, both full of promise and layered melody; business as usual for the band. A run of fan favourites ended the show with the strongest choruses saved till last, cementing the gig as a great time and great value to the devotees present.

They may never set the charts alight, but they fill their London gigs for good reason. This is a band for whom the music is first and foremost and everything else can follow thereafter. A lesson to all musos, players and fans alike.