It is a rare musician who can escape being labelled. There is no simple description for an artist like Jamie Lenman. He has created whole albums of folk and blues, of hardcore (especially with his former band Reuben) and, most recently electro-pop. What kind of music does he perform live? Will he whip out a banjo, bop along to a drum machine or rock out with a full band?
Nothing could prepare me for this show.
Jamie Lenman arrives on stage to the ticking pulse of electro-pop single Hard Beat. Live drummer Dan Kavanagh lays down the beat. There are two full drum sets on stage, hinting at the percussive might to come. The crowd sing along joyfully, this song is a great opener with a killer hook and sudden crescendo. The two musicians thrum straight into punchy rock track Hell In A Fast Car and a mosh pit forms. Kavanagh is a hard drummer for such sparse parts, his form in motion looks better suited to four limb hammering through hardcore numbers. On former Reuben song A Kick In The Mouth, with octopus like dexterity, Kavanagh is doing a drumming manoeuvre akin to rubbing your stomach and patting your head. It transpires that this is just a warm up for the two men when they launch into One of My Eyes Is A Clock. This is real deal hardcore. The whole crowd is in motion.
Between songs, Lenman takes time to pick out faces from the crowd, and share some banter. To avoid any appearance of favouritism among friends and fans he stresses, “I love you all equally and, fuck you all equally”. He stops to talk up his current album Devolver, (one of our albums of the year, 2017, on Rockshot Mag) encouraging everyone to buy it. After a quick straw poll delivered in the medium of loud shouting, it turns out most of the audience has a copy. As noted by Lenman himself it seems fewer people have paid for it, the group having purchased it legally giving the, “shorter, louder, more furious answer”.
Waterloo Teeth a driving rock number, alive with smashes of tinny high hat has dedicated fans shaking and swaying, a throbbing centre of the crowd. Even the stage bouncer on security duty is caught out for a moment air drumming. The pace continues with a revisit of Reuben’s Eating Only Apples in which both sets of drums are utilised. The double drumming frenzy shifts, taking on a standard jazz beat, then a rock tempo. Holding the beat on symbols Lenman stays with the drums and as Kavanagh takes over guitar. Lenman characterises the switch, “Got a little bit crispy there, but we made it out.”
Breaking to return to their designated instruments, Lenman asks permission form the crowd to indulge in what he describes as the gentler, “mumbley indie stuff”. His ‘indie’ track Little Lives has a soft, rhythmic Cali sound. He picks through a steady patter of heartfelt pop with as much passion as the heavy rock. He introduces a new song about, “relationships and how we treat each other, not necessarily romantic relationships.” Bad Friend has big clear vocals on the chorus that proves the quality of Lenman’s voice. After this song, perhaps respecting his own philosophy on relationships, Lenman credits the warm up acts and all of the people supporting the tour.
All Of England Is A City is the musical equivalent of a kick in the ears. For just two musicians, Lenman and Kavanagh provide a massive push of sound. Guiding the audience Lenman picks out chorus for the crowd to sing back to him, the curls of his moustache practically blown back by the gusto of the fans.
After so much hard rock track, I Don’t Know Anything practically sounds like disco. The stilted vocal matches the bass underpinning. It is cool electro track that fills in the punctuation of the drum and guitar. Lenman is an unselfconscious performer who opens up in an outpouring of energy. Aiming to hold onto the audience participation, he demands, “Close quarter harmonies like the Andrews Sisters!” Suddenly the power of the audience fails as the long note on lyric, “I tryyyyy…” starts to sound like a reluctant school assembly. Lenman commands the crowd jovially, orchestrating what feels more like a big rowdy party than a gig. On fun, old school number Every Time A Teenager Listens To Drum & Bass A Rock Star Dies there’s some good old-fashioned head banging from the frantic crowd. Now the security guard looks less impressed.
Lenman is pretty amazing. He is a multi- disciplinary, multi-instrumentalist and multi-faceted performer. His song Mississippi is a great example of his talents, I can only describe it as ‘blues hardcore’. Screaming out he gasps for a full throat of air before every vocal excursion. After the spelling of “M.I. Double S.I. Double S.I. Double P. I!” For a finale, Lenman returns to the drums for a crazed and explosive ‘drum off’ with Kavanagh.
Jamie Lenman returns to the stage alone for solo acoustic encore, the crowd seems appreciates his ‘sunset side’, singing along to a gentle folk-tinged songs played on steel guitar. Lenman’s falsetto alternated to offset bluesier vocals on songs like, Hard To Be A Gentleman. The swaying crowd sway out of time comically like their mosh pit in slow motion. Lenman completely re-works single Body Popping from downbeat pop to an urgent unplugged sing along. This makes for an easy segue to the jangly Pretty Please. This comical song about ego and the desperate quest for validation is a sweet little number after a much-needed guitar re-tune. The final song of the night is another quick revisit to Reuben’s Let’s Stop Hanging Out, which generated the mind-boggling sight of an actual acoustic mosh-pit. Everyone deserves to experience a show like this – performers like this are come around so rarely – go get a ticket!
The Devolver tour continues at these venues: –
Fri 16 Feb – The Hub, Plymouth
Sat 17 Feb – The Fleece, Bristol
Sun 18 Feb – The Globe, Cardiff
Fri 23 Feb – Chinnerys, Southend-On-Sea
Sat 24 Feb – Waterfront Studio, Norwich
Sun 25 Feb – O2 Institute3, Birmingham
Photography by Paul Lyme & Live Review by Sarah Sievers of Jamie Lenman @ Academy Islington on 9th February 2018.