Kiran Leonard @ The Glad Cafe, Glasgow, 9 May

Kiran Leonard and his band nail down their place as one of the best live bands around

Live Review by Joe Creely | 14 May 2024
  • Kiran Leonard

I feel I should start this review with a preface: I love Kiran Leonard’s work. If you were to ask me my favourite British records of the last ten years, he has three circling the summit. His new record Real Home is the best thing I've heard all year. That is to say: I am absolutely the choir he would be preaching to. I’ve drank the Kool-Aid, bought the Nike Decades, the lot. But good God, him and his band are incredible tonight.

Opening with Real Home’s epic The Kiss, he’s on blistering form, his band raising the already momentous track to sublime new heights. Borrowing two of caroline’s sprawling cast list, he brings violin, cittern and hammered dulcimer alongside the usual guitar, drums and bass. It gives a singular texture and momentum, tight as anything but simultaneously roughshod, the feeling of a rickety galleon barrelling through a storm. The sound has the dexterity and angular playing of math-rock but is so much more loose and ragged, with a swooning Dirty Three romanticism at its core. The Kiss jerks and hiccups, but in a way that accumulates feeling with every cycle of tension, so that when it reaches one of its multiple emotive peaks it is devastating in its power.

Leonard himself is a livewire presence at the centre of it all, gnashing, wide-eyed, totally consumed by the song. He has this propensity for wrenching his body and face with every syllable, as if every line is being torn from the very centre of him, like the words are burning up his stomach and they need to be expelled no matter how painful it is. But this isn’t some mawkish performance of sentimentality, it feels totally physical and unaffected. It adds a fiery energy to a song like My Love, Let's Take The Stage Tonight, a track that frantically writhes like a beheaded snake on record but here is just astonishing, every instrument violently flailing in majestic harmony. 

Then out of nowhere he closes with Sights Past, the thrashing, drone-ballad highlight of Trespass on Foot, Pt. 1 that, at 15 minutes in length, I think most had pretty much assumed would never get a live runout once the tour for that record had ended. It’s an incredible closer, Magdalena McLean’s violin bringing a touch of the Velvets at their warmest, so stately and elegant amidst the unstoppable throb from every instrument around it. Where on record the song sounds isolated, someone tearing at their past, this sounds like someone coming to terms with it and pushing forward, intent on joy.

Real Home marks Leonard’s attempt to make, in his own words, a record that is "more personal... more accessible… without it being a trade-off or a flattening." One can only hope this new immediacy means his work finally gets its dues at a broader level. Whether it does or it doesn’t, Leonard remains a class apart in the British music scene, and his band one of the best you could hope to see.