Iceland’s Leaves must be cursing their timing. When they first appeared three years ago, most Icelandic bands were known more for their ethereal eccentricity rather than playing accessible guitar pop. However, Breathe, Leaves’ debut album, was chockfull of commercial tunes. Yet, rather sadly, it sank without trace.
Now they’re back, and as comedian Mitch Benn would say, “everyone sounds like Coldplay now”, so Leaves seem destined to be unjustly dismissed as bandwagon jumpers. The comparisons are understandable, but a bit unfair – although there are similarities with Chris Martin’s stadium conquerors, there is a deeper, darker sound which improves with every listen, especially on the new album The Angela Test.
Which makes it a bit of a shame that the Boardwalk venue in Sheffield was just half full (or half-empty of course, depending on your perspective on life). This impinged on the atmosphere from the start, especially when a group of blokes at the bar insisted on chatting loudly all through the set.
However, for those who were there to enjoy the music there was much to enjoy. They played a brooding, melancholy set which would appeal most to fans of Elbow or Doves, and the five piece seemed lost in their own respective worlds – bassist Hallur Hallsson in particular seemed to be in his own personal zone all night, nodding his head and often turning his back to the audience.
Lead singer Arnar Gudjonsson did not particularly interact with the crowd very much, but from his usual position behind his keyboard, he showed exactly where the Chris Martin comparisons have come from. The title track of Breathe was dusted off, and goes from a Coldplay-style introduction before the rest of the band kick in to crank up the song a gear.
Other highlights included The Spell and Whatever from The Angela Test, but if there was a criticism, it was a tendency for all the songs to sound a bit similar. There’s only so much relaxed noodling one can take before it all goes a bit over your head. The lack of atmosphere and lack of enthusiasm from the crowd didn’t help, but it was only when Leaves launched into Good Enough that things picked up. This is the closest thing Leaves have to a ‘cross-over’ hit at the moment, and was a definite standout moment of the gig, sounding rather like Radiohead, circa Hail To The Thief.
By the time Shakma closed the set, most of the audience seemed disinterested. Which is a shame, as it’s one of the group’s finest songs. Beginning as a floaty Pink Floyd-esque instrumental, it slowly builds up throughout its seven minutes until the band have worked up a veritable head of steam as they jam. It sounded magnificent, and it’s a crying shame that the audience at the Boardwalk didn’t seem to enjoy it. There wasn’t even a shout for an encore as Leaves walked offstage.
It all made for a rather odd evening that, mainly due to the atmosphere of the usually excellent Boardwalk, was a pleasant, if ultimately underwhelming, experience.