Leif Vollebekk – Gorilla, Manchester – 02/04/17

If you’re looking for an amiable, easy-going type to play at your party you can’t go wrong with Leif Vollebekk.

The Montreal-based soul-folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist was in a good mood as he took the stage in support of Gregory Alan Isakov, even when he managed to dislodge the array of gizmos perched on top of his electric piano part way through opening song Vancouver Time, sending them crashing to the floor. Having retrieved them courtesy of ‘Ian’ in the audience, to whom he offered a beer later, he proceeded to tell that audience that he loved them. When someone replied they loved him he concluded this must be the fastest artist-audience relationship in history. That’s how to win friends and influence people.

The incident may have prompted a sudden and unexpected jazzy piano ‘break’ part-way through the song, one which doesn’t figure on the recorded version of the song. If it was improvisation, it was pretty impressive.

The easily flowing humour during what was the second-last of 30 dates across Europe was sustained throughout the set, in which Vollebekk, playing solo on a homely stage setting which featured two illuminated globes, switched back and forward between keyboards and guitar, mainly performing songs from his recently released album Twin Solitude. But it did not disguise the fact that he writes serious, thoughtful songs, many of them concerned with his travels and experiences during them, observing life’s many twists and turns and chronicling them by way of reference to something as abstract as a road sign or an event in a TV show.

In ‘Michigan’ for example he’s done with healers and sycophants and presumably expects to find less of them in the macho Donald-supporting Wolverine State, while ‘Elegy’, already released as a single, is a simple piano lament for a love removed at length and painfully, rather than suddenly and dramatically but which only succeeds in stirring his soul for a yearned for reunion. Subtly ambiguous, it is guaranteed to win the hearts of losers in ‘matters of the heart’, whatever the reason, and is possibly the best track on the album.

There was one new song, officially untitled as yet but referred to as ‘Appalachia Plain’, a title he simply ‘dreamed up’ and more of a country and western song, played with acoustic guitar and harmonica. There’s no evidence that signifies a change of direction and, while a pleasant diversion, it wasn’t as convincing a song as those from Twin Solitude.

He’s an interesting guy to watch as well, especially when he’s perched at his piano, seeming to indulge in aerobic exercises with his arms and upper body, while shifting around uncomfortably as if he’d sat on a wasps nest.

And that is pretty much all there is to say about a very short introduction to an artist who is justifiably confident of his talent without any displaying any pretensions. Vollebekk should really be headlining smaller venues. He’d be perfect for the more intimate Deaf Institute for example, where this show was originally scheduled before a late change brought about by ticket demand.

Towards the end of the show he thanked what he labelled as ‘the best’ of the (29) audiences he’d played to on this tour. A platitude perhaps, but they certainly warmed to him and I realised that while most of the people in the close-to-full- house were probably there for Gregory Alan Isakov, there was certainly a small but hardcore that was present to see Leif Vollebekk and that a set that was so short and which contained so few of the best songs from Twin Solitude (less than half) might have been disappointing to them.

Which begs the question, is there any point in offering up just a six-song set over 30 minutes? Eight songs and 45 minutes should really be the new norm for the support act if there is only one of them and their quality is evident.

For sure I would have liked to have heard, for example, ‘Rest’, the eight-minute epic closer of Twin Solitude, which is quite different from anything that preceded it, a challenging song that requires studied concentration and which builds through a poignant and highly satisfying instrumental mid-section. The degree of instrumentation employed would make it difficult to play as a solo performer but that’s just another good reason for him to do what someone in the audience demanded – “come here more often” – and next time, as the bill topper.

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