Live Review: Paul Smith and The Intimations – Leeds

Paul Smith and The Intimations

September 5th, The Brudenell, Leeds

Paul Smith Live

Words: Julia Grantham
You hear people say “ I hate surprises” sometimes, and other times, some say the opposite. Tonight, as I left The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, I decided that it really isn’t that simple for me; however I do love to be pleasantly surprised. Having received the album by Paul Smith & The Intimations by email little more than a few days prior to the gig, I was hardly an avid fan. That said, I’d been reeled in instantly by what I had heard and was eager to attend this live performance.

You could say I was slightly unprepared. I hadn’t checked out the support act. As it happens, Devon Sproule was it. I’d neither come across her name nor her music. I liked her immediately. I don’t know what I was expecting, exactly, I hadn’t really thought about it, but had I been asked, a local indie guitar-led band would have been my guess; I wouldn’t have been more wrong. Sproule’s American-Canadian sound was as sincere as it was pure. Her voice was clear, tuneful, and filled the venue with a serene beauty. The audience provided an attentive, yet mostly seated reception, but the majority were transfixed throughout. Those few to my left who whispered loudly amongst themselves were met with several loud “sssshhhhs!” from a frowning lady. Devon reminded me of those Country artists I used to love around about the time that Paul Smith was peaking with Maximo Park; memories of seeing Tift Merritt, Kathleen Edwards and Gina Villalobos gigs sprang to mind. Each of them talented, soulful performers who enchanted their audiences but left them unsure of how to react, despite varying degrees of effort to verbally engage their crowd. Personally, I blame our British reserve, and I told her so at the end of the gig; we’re just stunned into silence is all, but I am going to make it my mission next time I encounter such an artist to shout out : “You’re beautiful!” really loudly, even though I’ll feel overwhelmingly silly doing so!

I think of bands whom I love, such as Nirvana who were, for the most part, a simple three-piece. The sound that came from them though, was immense. The one person I know who saw them perform in Leeds more than twenty years ago in a similarly sized-venue (of course, I hate him (!) ) was blown away by what they could do live, but imagine a girl on stage with just a guitar, who then has the guts to end her set with an a cappella number. All I can say is, it worked. She thanked the sound engineer, I bet he later thanked her too for a pleasurable evening’s work. The song I enjoyed the most from her was the opening track to both her set and latest album: Colours; You can come home about her time living in Austin, Texas. I found it both refreshing and fascinating that Devon relayed a few anecdotes about the inspiration behind her songs, and specifically what they meant. Some artists choose to be more ambiguous and there is no right or wrong way to present one’s art, but I admire those who seemingly have the self-assurance to tell their audience what their songs mean, where they came from and why. I particularly liked the way she juxtaposes the elements and seasons with city-life. Her performance was full of passion but in a soulful way. I love it when a singer makes singing look easy, but of course it is not. A musician I interviewed once, described singing as the ‘highest form of artistic expression’, simply because of the muscles you have to use to project your voice. If he is right, and as subjective as this statement is, Devon Sproule was living proof of this. Her voice didn’t faltered once.

I couldn’t really say she warmed the crowd up for what was to come. Rather, she left us with one half of a beautifully juxtaposed evening between two completely different performances by stylistically different artists who appeared to love what they do; that thing that united us all that evening; the making and receiving of music. I say receive loosely- if you sing and clap in response to a performance you contribute something of musical value to that experience in my humble opinion!

As we awaited the main act to start, I turned to my husband and told him the research I’d done so far informed me that that Maximo Park guy usually wears a hat and is known for his on stage antics. That’s all I thought I knew. So leaving him seated with his pint, I moved to the centre of the floor as the band appeared. Sure enough, he wore a hat, his ‘antics’ were simply to alternate between singing and playing his songs, with brilliant interspersions of a kind of stand-up comedy. It was fabulous. I’ve never been to a gig like it, and there’s no way I’ll miss the chance to see Paul Smith & The Intimations again. Or Devon Sproule for that matter. Yorkshire folk love people from The North East. Or so it seemed tonight. I think they’re similar to us, just a wee bit cheekier! I’m stereotyping of course, but I think this evening more than usual, I had a heightened awareness of what it means to be Northern, having just returned from a trip to London. In any case, there was a friendly exchange of football-related gags, an appreciation of Yorkshire and ‘Cleveland’ (now, Northumberland?!) idiosyncrasies and a little bit of political humour. All met with warm laughter, applause and impromptu shout-outs. For a first-time gig of an artist I scarcely knew, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

The opening song, in a similar vein to Sproule, was the first track on the latest album: Contradictions; The Deep End with the wonderful line ‘all my dreams are contradictions’ an obvious enough statement when you think of the last dream you had, but as a metaphor it speaks of the nature of following your heart and the complications associated with that. As I said in my recent album review, Paul Smith & The Intimations are fabulous because their songs are on the one hand, catchy accessible Indie-Pop tunes, on the other a poetic journey of all matters affecting the human condition. Seeing them live though, bringing their songs to a real-time audience was great. Their sound was impeccable, and from this first song, the energetic tone was set. I haven’t seen a bass-guitarist’s fingers move so quickly over the strings in a while, and each guitar maintained such an energy and tempo all evening. I loved the album, thought it was a real ‘grower’ but those songs that I had initially thought were ever so slightly lacklustre, sounded so much better when standing in front of the four musicians playing their instruments with all their might. Coney Street 4th July and Mezzanine Floor were two such examples, and having listened to them again since last night, I have grown to like them more. However, the stand-out tracks of the evening were, for me: Break Me Down, a simple but overwhelmingly melodic and instantly likeable single, All The Things You’d Like To Be and I Should Never Know. The latter contains a tiny part which sounds like exactly like we’re about to be treated to an unlikely launch into Motorcycle Emptiness by The Manic Street Preachers. Another bit of Crowded-House-style-chord-poaching (!) as alluded to by Paul himself.

I left The Brude feeling exhilarated and refreshed after an evening of such uplifting music. The ambience was warm and friendly, I was surrounded by happy attentive people, who seemed to enjoy the evening as much me, albeit expressing themselves in different ways. I recall the two girls in high heels, one had kicked her shoes off but both were laughing and joking with Paul throughout the gig, the bloke with a Geordie accent who wrapped his arms around his girlfriend during a rendition of the romantic Bath towards the end, and the guy at the back who shouted out a request and the smile of satisfaction on his face when it was played. I’ll be returning to my favourite Leeds venue shortly. I have a week in October where I’ll be there three nights out of seven. I look forward to that, and in the meantime I hope you check out these artists if you haven’t already. Better still, see them live. You won’t regret it.

Check out Julia’s review for Contradictions here

Watch the video for Break Me Down here:

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