This gig was phenomenal.
It’s hard to come across as genuine when you’re a known advocate of something or somebody (I remember clambering to justify liking The Phantom Menace while leaving the cinema all those years ago… what a fanboy fool I was), but for fans and first-timers alike, this was truly an exceptional night. His first performance in front of a real audience in five years, Lenman seemed at home as ever – creeping onstage alone playing his ‘banjolele’ for ‘Shotgun House‘ – invoking a mass sing-a-long – and cracking wise between songs (“I play in a very specific tuning… it’s called ‘close enough'”) as well as bantering with the various musicians he shared the stage with and of course his audience, Lenman was on top form for his opening night. Dressed like a 1930’s man-about-town complete with up-curled moustache, (but, as he regretfully pointed out, without braces) he cut and interesting, intelligent and commanding presence in the tiny Green Door Store.
This is to say nothing of the actual music itself; as with Lenman’s first solo album Muscle Memory, ‘eclectic mix’ doesn’t begin to cover it. As the record’s a double-sided mix of screamed, angry and impassioned vocals atop brutally heavy riffs and frankly bonkers time signatures, alongside softer material – folksy guitar, gentle harmonies and genre flirtations with blues and jazz – I was curious as to how the set was going to work. Damn it, it shouldn’t have. But /god/ damn it, it did.
Following the aforementioned feelgood opening, Lenman and his band Heavy/Mellow then immediately launched into album opener ‘The Six-Fingered Hand‘ and dropped an atom bomb of audio upon the unsuspecting crowd, who went completely bezerk, forming a huge swirling moshpit in the centre of the tiny venue. Fast, screamy and so very very heavy, it was a perfect counterpoint to the previous song and a foreshadowing of the level of diversity the audience could expect from the show. Slipping seamlessly between the monster and mellow material, careening from style to style, and even bolstered by a few classic Reuben tracks (‘No One Wins The War’, ‘Good Luck’, ‘Moving to Blackwater’ and, closing the night, b-side masterpiece ‘Shambles’), the whole thing worked with Lenman as its lynchpin – because this was an artist who, perhaps for the first time, was free to do whatever the hell he wanted, and the passion for his art was the beating heart of each and every song.
Other notable highlights included gentle new tracks ‘I Ain’t Your Boy’, ‘Pretty Please’ and ‘It’s Hard To Be A Gentleman’ (one of two tracks with guest vocals from Mrs Lenman, Katie), and the searing sonic assaults of ‘All The Things You Hate About Me, I Hate Them Too’, ‘Muscle’ and ‘One Of My Eyes Is A Clock’, while perhaps the night’s shining moment was an 8-man (I think) rendition of the album’s acapella track ‘A Day In The Life’; an old-timey, foot-stompin’, railroad-buildin’ sort of song that wouldn’t be out of place on the ‘O brother, Where Art Thou?’ soundtrack. It was a glorious moment both for artist and audience.
Lenman seemed constantly surprised throughout the show at both the crowd reaction and the quality of their performance (incredulously saying a few times, “I can’t believe how well this is going!”) but should not have been. His fans have waited five years for this, and Jamie and Mellow/Heavy delivered in spades with not a single misstep in the entire hour. To play a show of this level on any given night is fantastic; to do it on the first night of your tour in five years is nothing short of a wonder. Or, like I said, phenomenal.
Welcome back, Jamie. You were missed.