Piano Magic - Leeds Brudenell Social Club - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Piano Magic - Leeds Brudenell Social Club

by Steve Rhodes Rating: Release Date:

Formerly of London but now France-based, Piano Magic have been an on/off part of my life for 15 years, particularly in the late 90s with regular radio play from avid fan John Peel, but bar one missed gig in 2000 I have never had a chance to see them in the North of England. So an appearance at perhaps the best venue in the country, The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, is one that could not be missed.

Up first to a very sparse and early crowd are Ailsa Craig, a Broken Dog meets Dubstar via Goldfrapp three-piece with vast experience in other local bands. While the performance is nice it is also rather insipid and lifeless, not helped by the bored nature of the band, particularly the singer. Much of the interesting parts of the music such as the strings, beats and guitar are pre-programmed, and it is only when the volume on the bass is yanked up and the drums are pounded do the band spring into life, which is not often enough.

Downdime have obtained almost legendary status locally, plugging away in the Leeds scene with little success for many a year, and are in rather odd form tonight. Splitting their half-hour set into two distinctly different parts is an interesting concept which shouldn't work but somehow does. Opening as a six-piece with cello and additional guitar, they produce a mournful start reminiscent of the Tindersticks but particularly like the excellent Deus. After a couple of nice maudlin numbers, the shackles are off, two members and the cello are shed and the now four-piece turn into an organ-infused Yuck meets Dinosaur Jr outfit. With a dramatic increase in pace and volume, the tunes produced are frenetic and poppier, something which Leeds bands have perfected in the last decade. A great contrasting performance.

Where the night truly gets in gear is with the excellent Maggie8. Fronted by bassist and singer Nivedita Pisharoty and guitarist/vocalist Mark Wright, formerly of Wetherby legends Hood, the band produce an upbeat and exhilarating fusion of bhangra and guitar styles, with a mix of Hindi and English vocals which get the increasingly busier crowd going. With one song announced as a mash up of a Pentangle cover and a Bollywood tune and making use of banjo, trumpet and unusual percussion to more conventional instrumentation Maggie8 are pretty unique in their blend of Western and Eastern sounds. With a highlight of 'Charming Lady', their homage to the Smiths' 'This Charming Man', Maggie8 are a pleasure to watch, with songs lingering in the memory for sometime to come.

What a unique contrast then to headliners Piano Magic. Before starting, mainman Glen Johnson aptly announces that the band are available for weddings and parties, but mostly funerals, and then delves into the epic 'The Blue Hour', the highlight of their most recent album Ovations. IT's a beautiful and yearning opener dominated by spectral guitars and Glen's solemn but optimistic vocals, a good mix of Ira Kaplin from Yo La Tengo and sometime collaborator Brendan Perry from Dead Can Dance.

With songs appropriated equally from albums and EPs from as far back as their 2000 Artists Rifles LP (the excellent 'No Closure'), Piano Magic produce an superbly tight set of effects-assisted melancholic rock, with elements of post-rock, ethereal dark-wave, parched Americana and swirling, chiming guitars. Standout tracks 'The Last Engineer', 'Love and Music' and the gorgeous instrumental 'Great Escapes' are sumptuously played, filling the room and delighting the small but busy audience. Even where hitches occur and the lead guitarist is forced off to restring his instrument, the band continue effortlessly until his return. Music of this nature can sometimes suffer in smaller venues but at the Brudenell the sound is lush, enveloping and pitch-perfect, a credit to a great band, sound engineer and venue.

After 15 years, it was certainly worth the time waiting to see Piano Magic produce a truly memorable and astonishing live performance. I'd highly recommend anyone to go and see them on their rare visits to the UK, you'll be astounded.

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