Margaret Glaspy and Leif Vollebekk review
Margaret Glaspy and Leif Vollebekk at The Cluny 2 – 8th September 2017
We were lucky enough to pop down to The Cluny 2 last Friday to see American singer-songwriter Margaret Glaspy and her support act Leif Vollebekk. It was a great night of music and one I’ll remember for a very long time. We arrived early and grabbed some fab food in one of our favourite pubs in town, The Ship Inn. With some great vegan grub and a couple of pints inside us we headed over to The Cluny 2 for the opening act Leif Vollebekk.
For those of you saying who? Leif is a Canadian born singer whose third album ‘Twin Solitude’ was released this year.
The doors were just opening and a small crowd shuffled their way downstairs and found their seats. It was relatively quiet so we quickly grabbed a couple of drinks and got ourselves comfy. Leif was casually milling around, his laid back demeanour meant he went pretty much unnoticed by the punters to be honest. He stood at the side of the venue in a white t-shirt and jeans with a complimentary beer in hand, chatting to the one of the staff selling Margaret Glaspy merch.
He turned and headed towards the stage. I had been wondering what set up he would have and was impressed to see it was just him, a Wurlitzer piano and a guitar. He introduced himself with a little light banter, a few quips and a half decent attempt at a few Geordie expressions. His slightly goofy and relaxed style put everyone at easy quickly but somewhat hid the show we were in store for! He beckoned the crowd nearer and people shuffled around close to the stage. The intimate setting and fact you could get so close up was perfect for the performance.
As soon as he started playing it was clear to see we were in for a real treat. He had the crowd hanging on his every note. He was so deep into the performance and emotionally invested in every lyric, his face and whole body twitching and expressing the raw emotions. This won everyone over in an instant and the crowd was hushed, in silent awe of what they were seeing.
For anyone who has not heard him (make sure you do!) you can listen to and buy ‘Twin Solitude‘ here.
It is that rare thing in the modern music industry, a near perfect album, a real story in song. I try to avoid the clichés like ‘a journey‘ as they are overused and rarely deserved. However it has to be said his ‘Twin Solitude‘ really does earn the highest of praise. This album is born of hard work, relentless touring, a rollercoaster of emotions and pure musical craft and skill . It is the kind of album you put on in the car and have to keep driving round the block until it is finished even though you have already reached your destination. Addictive, emotional and beautifully simple.
I think Leif probably suffers from the classic ‘kiss of death‘ musical label of ‘folk‘. Like a hidden guilty pleasure you are not allowed to admit liking, this dirty word of the music industry often means people just dismiss you all to early as a novelty act, reserved for summer festivals in Devon or niche music venues. Don’t get me wrong their is folk in there, I can see hints of Ray Lamontagne or even Dillon at times but there were definitely no banjos or tambourines in sight! You could equally compare him to Ryan Adams or Paul Simon, but comparisons don’t really do him justice. With ‘Twin Solitude‘ he really has completely found his very own style and sound. Some people have described it as ‘the darker side of folk‘ but I feel this is just an attempt to justify the ‘folk‘ label, like all great albums ‘Twin Solitude‘ walks the line between genres. It has the brutal soul-baring honesty of blues, an occasional jazzy vibe and even hints of gospel at times. His performance was so soulful, achingly beautiful and a wonder to watch performed from start to finish.
He absolutely stunned the crowd with ‘Vancouver Time‘ and ‘All Night Sedans‘. The sound was amazing in the intimate venue.
His performance was probably the most stripped back, bare and yet all encompassing gigs I’ve ever seen. I’ve been pretty much addicted to the album since first hearing it but it was a pleasant surprise to see the difference in the live performance.
He revelled in the sound the Wurlitzer Piano at The Cluny produced at his hands and it was the perfect soulful accompaniment to his singing. He absolutely loved its sound, so much so that in between songs he sang its praise saying it was “the best he’d ever played”. An audience member joined in and asked him if “he felt like Stevie Wonder” sitting behind it. He joined in and could not resist the urge to break out into a little ‘Isn’t she lovely‘ on the keyboard, this fun and relaxed vibe was a brilliant feature of the gig and made it all the more memorable.
This was made all the better for his stunned reaction when a female audience member joined in, belting out the last line of the song beautifully. The look of sheer surprise on his face was priceless! You could tell it was on his mind as he switched the set up from piano to guitar. He kept going back to it in his mind, then asking her questions as he got his guitar ready. He was flustered but in an excitable and infectious way. He quizzed her further and we found out she ‘had‘ once been in a band. You could see he almost wanted to stop and try to convince her to not give up on her music but then was brought back to reality, remembering he was at a gig, his gig! With everyone looking on expectantly…
Brief interlude over he kicked it off again with some amazing soulful guitar and more from his new album.
The ease at which he played was outstanding. Thorough the performance he showed amazing musical skill and vocal range, at times it was almost like jazz, with the emphasis on what he was not playing or singing. Whispering at times, drawing you in.
“It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” ~ Miles Davis
I had to keep reminding myself it was just him, the performance was so impressive and the room was filled with an amazing sound. Just him alone with a guitar or piano, creating a really unique feel and interpretation to the songs I thought I knew so well.
He really lost himself in the performance and this was most evident during ‘Telluride‘, it had shades of Dillon at times, and made you feel like you were peaking through to a different era, being randomly lucky enough to see a music legend play an intimate low-key venue before they made it big!
He even looked for a brief moment like he was going to go on a crazy guitar solo at the end, akin to Marty McFly playing Jonny B Goode at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance, but he stopped himself just in time!
Next up was a Joni Mitchell classic.
The crowd was enthralled with his performance throughout.
“Don’t worry about playing a lot of notes. Just find one pretty one.” ~ Miles Davis
With his set drawing to a close he had a little more chat with the audience, it was very self-deprecating at times, almost like he was wondering why anyone had turned up! It is rare in the music industry these days to see someone who does not think they are the best big thing and utterly amazing, but he seemed to genuinely have no idea just how good he was.
As he put the guitar away he joke “I only know one Geordie, that’s Geordi La Forge!”. He also chatted about how he only had one gig left but was back in the UK soon, though not at Newcastle (yet!). He said “let’s get on that…make it so!“. It goes to show how relaxed he was and the ease of performing, so much so he could shoehorn a terrible Star Trek joke into the set.
It was back to the piano for a last couple of songs. You could tell there were some hardcore fans in the audience waiting for these numbers as they all did a little cheer when he started to play. He ended on the beautifully simple and elegant ‘Elergy‘. Musically, it is deceptively simple; piano and drums normally. This was even more evident live, with just his voice, the piano and his feet tapping the beat. It was genuinely beautiful experience to see and easily one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
“Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.” ~ Salvador Dali
PRAISE FOR ‘TWIN SOLITUDE’:
“Devastatingly beautiful” – NPR Songs We Love
“It’s an invitation to travel – to the cobblestones of old Montreal on a bicycle, to the expanse of Montana in the back of a family car, to the Pacific coast in Vancouver, to Iceland, to Paris – and to the darkest corners of your heart.” – World Cafe
“The album exudes a meditative joy” – The Village Voice
“It’s his best work yet. Take a look at him now.” – The Globe and Mail
“A collection of gorgeous, spacious, piano-led melancholia.” – The Boston Globe
“Passionate Broken Social Scene-adjacent melodies wrapped in a casual, jammy atmosphere.” – The Fader
“Lovely, soulful and spare.” – Brooklyn Vegan
“Rarely simple, Twin Solitude is a striking display of Leif Vollebekk’s talent and heart. 8/10” – Exclaim!
4 stars – Le Droit
Glaspy’s songs are raw, robustly confident but yet beautifully crafted. Her voice is roughened, tough but yet strangely hypnotic.
The pairing of the two acts all began to make perfect sense I can see why Leif earlier played a Joni Mitchell song now and it is clear people will compare the two. The disarmingly honest lyrics are also a feature of both Leif and Margaret’s songs. Both are real songwriter performers and put their feelings out in the performance for all to see.
The title song of her debut album ‘Emotions and Math’ was met by an excited roar as she began. The crowd was swaying and singing along without a care in the world.
Her songs had some great memorable lines and it was easy to see why she has gained such a following so fast. The lyrics were fiercely in your face, brutally honest, painfully poignant, unflinching and straight to the point.
She banged out song after song with ease, they are mostly tight an catchy three minute affairs surprisingly, so almost a classic pop music/radio format for such an edgy and different performer.
The crowd loved her set and were hungry for more, it was great to see.
It was a great set and a perfect end to the gig.
If I had to sum up what I saw of the album I would say ‘beautifully brutal‘.
I will definitely be keeping an eye out for her and what she does in future.
You can buy ‘Emotions and Math‘ here.
As the night drew to a close we headed off for a last drink in Ouseburn, having seen one of the best gigs I have seen in a long while.
I would definitely recommend seeing them both if you can.
I would also put ‘Twin Solitude‘ in my must have desert island playlists for its raw emotion and sheer beauty. It is one of those albums that once listened to just stays with you.
A perfect 10/10 gig and night for me! Top marks The Cluny.