Review: Wildflowers/Denai Moore/Tom Odell, 02 Academy Leeds, 15th October 2013

As an aside, what is it with tea shops and compilations of early rock n’ roll? Our recent holiday near Whitby of necessity involved occasional visits to such places; and while the floral patterned cups and saucers didn’t exactly shake, rattle and roll to the sounds of Sun-era Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley and the rest, wherever we went there was an ever-present aural wallpaper of well-behaved guitars and thrumming double basses. I lost count of how many times the King urged me to love him tender.

Don’t get me wrong: every respect to the likes of Scotty Moore, but the irony of the original soundtrack of teenage rebellion being used to help push Lapsang Souchong or English Breakfast at a largely elderly clientele seemed lost on the proprietors. I thought perhaps the proximity of Goathland and other Heartbeat locations might be the excuse, but the apogee – or nadir, depending on your tolerance levels for this kind of stuff – occurred in a cafe in the Scottish Borders as we made our way home.

Staffed by the kind of gentle folk who would’ve run a mile at the sight of Marlon Brando swinging off his Harley in the car park, the decor, food and so-called ‘vintage’ curios on offer, coupled with the same unredeemed diet of 1950s music from Radio 2, lent the place the increasingly creepy air of a timeslip, culminating with a still-at-liberty Tony Blackburn introducing the next Tommy Steele number with: ‘this is 1957.’ At that point we lost our nerve and fled, convinced we were escaping an  alternate reality lifetime trapped in corduroys and Bri-Nylon.

By way of contrast, the gig your reviewer and his 15-year-old daughter went to Leeds for, from our holiday cottage in the moors, was a very modern affair. Through every moment of every performance, a veritable forest of iPhones and Samsung Galaxies waved aloft, just in case being there in the flesh wasn’t the whole point. They say if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t really there, man. In the Noughteens, if that’s what we’re calling them now, it really doesn’t matter how off your face you were, because the bozo next to you will have uploaded it all to Youtube by next Thursday.

Anyhoo; revenons a nos moutons. The gig was kicked off in fine fashion by Wildflowers, a newish outfit from the Bristol/Brighton area who looked – and more importantly sounded – gorgeous. Lead singer and co-songwriter Siddy Bennett’s headgear seemed to consist of the best part of some form of spatchcocked game bird, but that didn’t deter her from leading the line effectively and with no little charisma. Any support band who can get the crowd clapping along to their songs clearly know their chops; and the crowd here were visibly warmed up by the close of their set, laying a good platform for these guys to reach the next level of recognition in future.

Musically Wildflowers are fairly firmly in the rock mainstream; their own site quotes a review describing them as ‘the bastard children of Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles,’ which, depending on your musical tastes, might be a bit off-putting. A better reference point is that of the LA singer-songwriter LA Canyons scene; without sounding like anyone in particular, the focus is on solidly crafted compositions backed by arrangements that reach beyond the traditional soft-rock lead guitar/acoustic rhythm/bass/drums to encompass accordion, mandolin, and keyboards, in the combinations that each song needed.

Special mention though to the vocals – Bennett’s leads being more ably supplemented by the others, giving the choruses in particular, a rousing, soaring quality that really got the crowd properly warmed up. I will be ordering the EP.

Perhaps we hadn’t read the advance material properly, but we’d kind of expected Mr Odell himself after the roadies had shuffled away Wilflowers’ kit and caboodle from the stage. That expectation I think was shared amongst some at least of the crowd, which gave the second support act, Denai Moore, with a bit of hard work to win the crowd over when she appeared in the half dark and started tinkling the ivories.

In a strange counterpoint to another solo singer-songwriter we saw recently in Cupar, Jo Foster, Moore looked much more comfortable once she switched from keys to acoustic guitar and was joined by a drummer and keyboard player (for a review of the Cupar gig, go to the manicpopthrills review).

There was nothing particularly wrong with Moore’s set once she got going. However, I couldn’t help wondering if the two support acts should have been switched round, as the fuller sound of Wildflowers would have seemed the more natural progression to the main course of Tom Odell and band. This got me wondering about how support bands get chosen for bands at this level – are they just all mates with each other, share the same management company, or what? At least here it was clear Odell hadn’t done the musical equivalent of a bride putting her bridesmaids in a hitherto undiscovered shade of vermilion just so they don’t show her up on the big day – the support acts were in every sense worthy complements to the man himself.

As for Mr Odell, well. I almost don’t feel qualified to pass judgement on him. I wasn’t the only man over the age of twenty there – he’s no one-man boy band – but it’s clear that his core audience is, er, younger and more feminine than your reviewer. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed his performance – he’s perfected the art of passionate, piano-driven songs delivered with an enthusiasm that is really infectious. If he wasn’t having the time of his life up there, he’s one hell of an actor.

And I bet he could do one hell of a cover version of Jerry Lee.

PS: Tom Odell’s performance at Leeds on Youtube, here, and lots of other places…


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