27 Mar 2002: Camden Monarch London
In the recent past people tried to tell us that quiet was the new loud. Britain was awash with troubled singers standing on the shoulders of Tim Buckley and pouring out their angst to anyone who’d listen. Like a Jim Carey film, it got boring very quickly, and as we were just starting to go pale us Limeys were saved—not for the first time—by Americans coming over. Loud is the old loud and it always will be. So where do these six Norwegian troubadours fit in?
Well, with Leaves, there is the angst of a tortured soul firmly in evidence and thankfully they have left the autumnal acoustic strumming to a minimum, but live they don’t do anything we haven’t already seen many times before. With two electric guitars and a bass, they make a fair old bluster of a noise when they want to, but the group will never set the world on fire even of they had nuclear warheads strapped to the end of their Gibsons.
Singer Arnar Gudjonsson’s pebble-dashed and sometimes falsetto voice carries their music well enough and everything about them says competent—and when was the last time anyone got excited about “competent?” The obvious comparison to make is with Coldplay, and indeed their lead singer Chris Martin is here tonight checking out the competition. He may have got a few new ideas for future B-sides but surely knows his outfit should remain unchallenged for the choice of album at 30-something dinner parties.
Back in Reykjavik, Gudjonsson was a gardener—hence the name—and under the Northern Lights of Scandinavia this gentler kind of sound probably makes a hell of a lot more sense. If he’d called his band “Death by Strimmer” or “Weed and Hoes” they might have traveled a path less comfortable and arrived somewhere more thrilling.
On record, Leaves do have the odd moment of worth, and single “Breathe”, with its icy piano, does offer something slightly more interesting; live, however, the whole set plods along like a drowsy and somewhat footsore mule. The Stereophonics’ third album and the Richard Ashcroft solo material are no more than a stone’s throw from Leaves’ sound tonight, and the muted applause suggests that the majority of the audience know it.
We shouldn’t be too hard on them, though. They have only just got their gig-count into double figures since their first-ever show in Reykjavik last October, and it would be churlish to suggest that they won’t develop into something more substantial. New single “Race” is more up tempo and some of the piercing guitar hints at more interesting things to come in the future.
On the way out a guy in a Grandaddy T-shirt turned to his girlfriend and apologized. She dismissed his disappointment with a gentle shake of her head and muttered that they were “alright-ish.” This band might want to expand their sound or get used to being damned with faint praise.
Coldplay and Richard Ashcroft fans might want to investigate further, but ColdAsh is nothing but a butt-suck on someone else’s half-spent cig—and by now we really should be smoking more original and interesting.