Leo’s Garden gig @ 12 Bar Club, Soho: 5/5/11

May 6, 2011

The 12 Bar Club is the perfect London rock venue. It’s way better than the over-hyped Bar Flys and Roundhouses of the city, more intimate than the Borderline and dingier than the Bedford.  The place has it all – a tiny stage, battered gear, big-ass sound, cramped standing room for a full house of about 60, and a weird, head-height balcony seating area so the band can get a good look at your shoes. Tonight the room was amply stocked with about 35 paying customers, all friends of the band, and mostly fans of Donny Mahmood, charismatic guitarist, lead singer, songwriter and all-round entertainer.

The band gradually all made it to their positions on-stage in the only way permitted by the 12 Bar – by climbing clumsily over one another’s instruments, and the drummer wedging himself into the corner, boxed in by walls, drums and amplifiers. Once in place, the three-piece rock/funk outfit launched into their signature song, ‘Make It Right’. The guitar was a bit quiet, the bass overpowering and the drummer apparently unsure of the pulse; however, the vocal harmonies were spot-on, and the outfit were tight as you like. All attacked the song with infectious conviction.

Second song ‘Find the Words’ cemented the band’s feel – in lieu of the metronomic articulation of most funk-rockers, these guys let the pulse breathe as they ride as one their course over the organic blues-rock landscape. The audience were all tapping feet, nodding heads, and getting down to the vibe. By the third song, ‘Tension’ –  a straight-er-ahead rock number – Don’s Telecaster was now fully in the mix and the full force of Leo’s Garden hit home. ‘Blunt-Blade Shaves’, a subtler, nuanced five minutes of psychedelic introspection, was perhaps the high point of the night, showcasing the trio’s ability to embrace Velvet Underground weirdness and mastery of dynamics. This song suited drummer Joe ‘B’ Goode’s predisposition towards ebb and flow in the pulse, and allowed the band space to do what they all did best – they grooved, moved, and proved they could remove the audience to another realm. Donny’s voice – uniquely mellow, husky and capable of aggression (manly Macy-Gray-meets-Sammy-Davis-Jnr.) – shone on this number, able to soar over the drum-and-bass polyrhythms and the effects-layered guitar experimentations.

For ‘Look In Her Eyes’ Donny switched to his vintage Stratocaster, and suddenly his sound came alive! The Strat added an edge and a bite to the band’s sound, and as he caressed the neck the guitar sang and moaned as if being tormented by a tortured Eric Clapton. ‘Plenty of Things’ featured a heavy Dave Matthews-style riff with serious attitude;  the guitar was now in charge, but it never shouted. ‘Mash Up’ was a mad party of guitar effects and rock-out jamming Zeppelin-style. Chris’s bass held on to the reins as the song lurched back and forth. Donny’s snarling vocals sent shivers down the spine, as the ending bled seamlessly into a soulful Foxy Lady-like jam and the band channeled the collective spirits of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Great gig. All hail the Don.

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