Somewhere around the middle of The Album Leaf’s opening set, I had the horrible realization that I’d yet to jot down a single observation for my review. The mixture of Andrew Pates’ projected visuals and Jimmy Lavalle’s music had transfixed me to the point where it was as if a door had opened up, invited me in, and I simply went through and was gone. Just in case any of you were wondering, I was completely sober and chemical-free, and I wouldn’t really describe myself as a highly impressionable person. However, the film and visual presentations for each song were perfectly suited to The Album Leaf’s music, and I became so engrossed in the whole experience that half the time I didn’t even notice that there were musicians onstage.
The touring band Lavalle has brought with him for the European dates supporting Sophia is fantastic, and consists of Drew Andrews (keys, guitar, and bass) and Tim Reece (drums) of fellow San Diego band Via Satellite, as well as Matthew Resovich from Black Heart Procession on violin, guitar and vocals. Reece’s muscular drumming gave some of the songs an urgency that the recordings never approach, while Resovich and Andrews added exploratory flourishes and color to The Album Leaf’s beautiful arrangements. Lavalle himself was anchored behind his Fender Rhodes for much of the night, barely acknowledging the crowd until the end of the set.
Focusing mainly on material from The Album Leaf’s latest release, “In A Safe Place,” the band seamlessly moved from song to song as if they were chapters being read from a book. Jimmy Lavalle is a master at establishing a theme and then playing endlessly with emotions, dynamics and countermelodies, much like Brian Wilson did at his creative peak. The Album Leaf was as on top of their game as a band can be, and I can only wonder what Lavalle has in store for us next. Hands down, this was the best show of the year for me.
Having seen Sophia at Voxhall back in March, I kind of expected the same set list and show this time as well. Eight months ago, Robin Proper-Sheppard and his band gave a hell of a show at Voxhall, which at times rocked as hard as anything he did while with The God Machine. On this leg of the tour however, Proper-Sheppard has brought along a string quartet to augment his ambitious arrangements in concert. It was to be a somewhat more somber and intimate show, and though it proved to be a bit uneven in spots, the strength of Proper-Sheppard’s songwriting made this grand undertaking a success.
The songs from Sophia’s latest release, “People Are Like Seasons,” dominated the set list and benefited from the addition of the string quartet, which was superb throughout. “Swept Back” and “Fool” were much warmer than the recorded versions, and so gorgeously played that I could almost feel my heart breaking. “Desert Song No.2,” with its prominent string sections, was the high point of the show once again. The release you feel as those power chords ring out towards the end of the song as the band threatens to descend into chaos is truly liberating.
The show did drag a bit at times, and Proper-Sheppard himself admitted that they had a rough night in Hamburg the night before, which made the Voxhall show not quite up to his usual high standards. But you have to cut him some slack when you realize how long he’s been out on the road supporting “People Are Like Seasons,” and that he can still move an audience even when he’s not at full strength is a testament to his presence as a performer.
Mark Horan, indieworkshop.com