- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
Chicago-born multi-instrumentalist Jeff T Smith first caught my attention back in 2011 under his Juffage moniker, something of an experimental one-man-show. Gradually Smith started to collaborate with other like-minded musicians on the ever fertile Leeds scene and Living Body was born.
They released their debut album, the rather wonderful Body is Working, back in 2016. I hadn’t heard much from the band in the intervening years so tonight’s show acts as a much welcome re-introduction.
York-based 4-piece Cowgirl kick things off with a set of relentless rock ‘n’ roll. The band barely pause for breath. Infectious 60’s tinged melodies mixed with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club swagger and fuzz. Cowgirl aren’t a country act as the name suggests nor are any of the member’s female but it’s solid, hellraising stuff nonetheless.
The atmosphere changes considerably with the arrival of tonight’s second act, experimental pianist and composer Matthew Bourne. We sit in a semicircle on the floor as Bourne familiarises himself with the Brudenell’s in-house piano.
What comes next is at turns hypnotic, unexpected and unpredictable; avant-garde improvisation that takes in fast, discombobulating key-hammering as well as softer, dreamlike pieces. It’s a challenging yet thoroughly mesmerising set that uses space, silence, dissonance and beauty to put us into a trance.
The mood shifts yet again with the arrival of Mi Mye. I have very vague memories of seeing this Yorkshire-via-Scotland 5-piece play years ago yet I’ve never really kept up with them. Clearly, I’ve been missing out. Playing with a broken ankle, vocalist, guitarist and violinist Jamie Lockhart leads the band through a set of utterly gorgeous, folk-influenced indie.
There’s a song about sharing a house with a “douche-bag”, a post-apocalyptic love song and a disproportionate amount of chat about bus routes. Trumpet and synth player Emily Ingham delivers the final song, a rather beautiful slow-burner that puts me in mind of The Triffids. It’s a great end to a charming, passionate and hugely enjoyable set.
The huge, hopeful and anthemic ‘Choose’ bursts into life and Living Body are soaring from the start. Smith’s voice pleads with us as the drama builds, “if you’re sleeping on floorboards/ the coldest parts of the house/all on your own/ why don’t you get out while you can?”
Each member of the band gives it their all with Smith on guitar and vocals, Alice Rowan/ Mayshe Mayshe on keys and vocals and Jack Burgess on bass. Sarah Statham and James Yates both play the drums, adding further urgency to the songs and pushing the whole thing into the stratosphere. Rowan and Statham take it in turns to add some extra guitar at certain points too, further adding to the immersive wall-of-sound.
Living Body feels like a pretty apt name, the various limbs on stage working in perfect unison. Every musician brings something fresh and engaging to these larger-than-life compositions. There’s an impressive technical aspect to the songs but like all good music, it’s the emotion behind the playing that gets the blood pumping.
The next 6 songs are the product of a period of unemployment for Smith; taking the uncertainty of the situation and channelling all his energy into the music. Songs about student debt, unemployment and the power of advertising have never sounded so emotional, personal and euphoric. The songs veer between the sonically explosive and a kind of slow-simmer that you can just let yourself sink into.
Smith has always been keen to experiment, when I first saw him perform he utilised a selection of old boomboxes strategically placed around the room. His songs have a way of filling and fully inhabiting a space. Tonight each song is beautifully textured, layer-upon-layer of sound designed to fully immerse the listener.
The gorgeous ‘Last Few True’ sounds as beautiful as it did when I first heard it performed at The Left Bank (a local church-come-music venue) as part of Smith’s Sonic Cauldron event. The guitars shimmer and sigh as Rowan sings the songs comforting, melancholic lyric. Any tension simply melting away as the gentle melody unfurls.
Rather than a cover of the hip-hop classic, ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ turns out to be another rather stunning new song. Smith tells us he was fired on the day he wrote it and fired yet again on the day it was released. It’s a pretty poor run of luck but a rather uplifting, life-affirming piece of music. Cash, it seems, doesn’t have to rule everything after all.