Live review: Leopold and His Fiction, Tremont Music Hall (7/24/2013)



Leopold and His Fiction
Tremont Music Hall
July 24, 2013


Daniel James - frontman, shaman and stand-up comedian of Leopold and His Fiction - is transported and transformed by the power of rock 'n' roll, and he thinks you can be too. At least, that's the way it felt Wednesday night at Tremont when the Austin combo took the audience for a ride in their heavy-psych-soul machine.

The redemptive, healing capacity of rock music is one of the hoariest clichés in the book, yet there it stood embodied onstage - James peeling off blistering reverbed guitar licks, shouting soulfully and dancing like a crazy motherfucker. The divine madness was compounded by the Dave Clark Five jackhammer drumming of Trevor Wiggans, Shaun Gonzalez's growling propulsive bass and Emily Hello's shout-along backing vocals that evoked the unhinged chorus of The Yardbirds' "Over Under Sideways Down."

The go-for-broke garage sensibility of Iggy and the Stooges permeates much of Leopold and his Fiction's approach, as well as the mutant '50s doo-wop of glitter rockers like Queen. Initially, the band's precise and powerful attack proved too much for the Tremont crowd. The audience seemed stunned into silence by the combo's opening salvo, particularly the overpowering Staxx soul by way of '70s glam rock stomp of "I'm Caving In." Yet, in short order, James drew the audience in.

"Don't be shy," James beamed as people entered the spill light off the stage. "Shit, some of you have faces!"

As a group leader, James is charismatic, genuine and decidedly offbeat. Sporting suspenders and a barber shop quartet mustache, he suggested electronic genius Nicolai Tesla recast as a 19th-century circus strongman in a David Lynch sideshow. Certainly there was a touch of theatricality in his delivery on Leopold's hardest rockers. The Thin Lizzy swagger of "Cowboy" was put over the top by James' possessed testifying on the choruses, talk-singing through swinging '70s-style boogie like Screaming Jay Hawkins leading a tent revival.

Yet Leopold's proto-punk psychedelic stomp was balanced with swing and heartfelt country. Floating gently on gorgeous three part harmonies, "Ride" was a plaintive timeless tune suggesting the open road and wide open spaces. The jangling two-step shuffle "One For Me to Find" drew on folksy backwoods charm courtesy of James' side gig with his alt country act Cowboy and Indian.

A Detroit native, James unleashed his Motown and R&B side on brand new song "Boa." The surging moonlit ballad evoked John Lennon's sweat-soaked take on Sam Cook's "Bring it on Home," before breaking out into a psych-tinged hip shaking groove.

The night's hardest rocker was also its most hypnotic. "She Ain't Got Time" boasted a snaky middle eastern guitar break anchored to a rolling circular bass line. Yet, this was only prelude to a trippy "Dazed and Confused' style drop-out dominated by Wiggan's fluid and loud-asfuck drums. James stepped offstage briefly, only to return in full-on Jim Morrison mode, invoking and intoning lyrics from the ether like a man possessed. Here James seemed closest to his forebears Nick Cave and Iggy Pop. Like Cave, he embraced American music's dark roots in segregation, violence and bluesy despair. Yet, like Iggy, James was immersed in the energetic joy of rocking (and swinging) out.

In his book How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n Roll, author Elijah Wald posits that black and white music became entwined with the birth of 50s rebel rock and soul. Over time the skein unwound into primarily white music - punk, prog and hard rock - and essentially black music - R&B, hip hop and soul. On Wednesday night, Leopold and His Fiction chose to dwell in an alternative universe where such a schism never happened. Swinging as hard as they stomped, testifying as loud as they boogied, Leopold and His Fiction were all the terror and joy of rock 'n roll made flesh.

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