Over the years, The Leisure Society have slowly but surely been expanding their sound – adding new ingredients into the mix at every possible opportunity, even if the result is not exactly re-inventing the wheel. Their stories – whether it be about clubbing in the Midlands or fishermen in Hastings – have captivated many fans, and 2013’s Alone Aboard The Ark saw them progress with further nods towards poppier hooks and melodies. It’s a combination that made it their most successful album to date.
Two years on and, in another one of climate change’s cruel tricks, they play a blisteringly warm Islington Assembly Hall on an unseasonally hot spring evening to perform songs from hot-off-the-press new record The Fine Art Of Hanging On. This might be the start of a tour, but they still give an accomplished performance – as one perhaps might expect from a band on their fourth album – that is satisfying if not revelatory.
Nick Hemming’s gentle vocals are wonderfully offset by a musical aesthetic that is, at times, as vibrant as it is varied. In particular, the sometimes dizzying violin and flute arrangements are reminiscent of some of the best works from Sufjan Stevens‘ Illinoise or much of The Divine Comedy‘s back catalogue.
The power of the songs speak for themselves, and they really shine in a live environment, sparkling and fizzing with energy. The Fine Art Of Hanging On’s themes are poignant but the music tries to hide the sorrow with catchy and bright tunes. Nothing Like This is a glorious piece of bustling kitsch pop. The title track, originally just limited to a tinny-sounding drum machine and acoustic plucks, is rousing and uplifting. Outside In, with its nagging refrain, is revitalising.
Unfortunately, the middle of the set is where things drag a little bit. Nearly all of their stripped-down and folk-based numbers are placed here; maybe it’s because they’ve become a more versatile troupe, but it starts to get a bit wearisome. Compared to the dynamic nature of the rest of the show, it doesn’t quite seem as exciting, even though there is a lot to admire about their compositions.
However, they quickly burst back into life for the last half hour. The relentlessly chirpy Fight For Everyone is one of the high points, but it’s A Matter Of Time from their debut, The Sleeper, that really gets the crowd going. It’s an obvious choice for final tune of the night, and it sends everyone home with beaming smiles. And what a joy it was to see them play with such gleeful abandon.