American Football @ Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 3 Nov

The kings of emotionally literate indie rock do stirring justice to their late-career masterpiece in unlikely Leeds surrounds

Live Review by Joe Goggins | 14 Nov 2019

The fact that American Football are playing a working men’s club in West Yorkshire on a Sunday afternoon sums up the happy absurdity that their reunion represents. In the next room at Leeds’ much-loved Brudenell, the Everton-Spurs game kicks off on giant screens right as the Illinois trio take the stage. Later, they’ll play an evening show, and anyone who was here when they first reformed back in 2015 will remember that they tacked on matinees because extra late gigs were an impossibility – they couldn’t get the time off work.

Earlier this year, guitarist Steve Holmes – who continues to work a desk job back home – admitted that his wife was growing tired of him using his holidays to tour with the band. The reunion is kind of his fault, of course; his discovery of some old live bootlegs, tapes from back when American Football were nothing more than a college band in their university town of Champaign-Urbana 20 years ago, led to a vinyl reissue of their legendary debut. That led to some live shows, and then a second record, and then more shows, and now – improbably – a third album that truly stands tall against 1999’s American Football.

If that second LP in 2016 (again, American Football) represented a tentative dipping of the toe back into the proverbial water, last March’s third record, American Football (sensing a trend yet?) saw them dive headfirst back into the heady realm of gorgeously crafted, emotionally literate indie rock. Key to the move was Nate Kinsella, cousin of frontman Mike, who – unlike Holmes and drummer Steve Lamos – is a full-time musician. Thus, he was able to fashion a melodic backbone on the likes of the sweeping Silhouettes, with which they open, and the mercurial Every Wave to Ever Rise, which hints at a genuine tempestuousness lying beneath its tranquil exterior.

He also lends backing vocals to the devastating one-two at the heart of 2019's American Football, Uncomfortably Numb and Heir Apparent, which in the studio saw Mike accompanied by Hayley Williams of Paramore and a children’s choir, respectively. They’re gorgeous slices of life, unflinching in their portrayal of the emotional shifts – or lack thereof – that come with ageing and fatherhood.

Still, even without the heavyweight vocal backing (Elizabeth Powell of Land of Talk is missing from Every Wave to Ever Rise, while Rachel Goswell of Slowdive only joined the band for I Can’t Feel You in London), there’s a fleshed-out line-up on display. This afternoon sees percussionist Mike Garzon darting on and off stage as and when the moment requires, and the line-up also involves potentially the final ever appearance of Cory Bracken on vibraphone, given Mike’s steadily-more-serious threats of expulsion for backchat.

They’re in jest, of course. Bracken will be back for the late show, and now that they’ve belatedly muddled past the difficult second album to make a late-stage masterpiece, so, you suspect, will American Football.