THE ALBUM LEAF. Bush Hall, London. 23.03.10

People say post-rock is boring, and they might have a point. On record The Album Leaf make few sudden moves. They softly whisper, weave through ambient soundscapes and make gentle post rock shapes that even leave the rock out most of the time. Live though, the band (for while their ship is steered by genius Jimmy LaValle, with 10 people on stage at any one time a band is what they are) supply twists, turns, alarms and surprises. Ok, so there are no thrash riffs or Lady GaGa covers, nothing truly shocking, but there are thumping drum-driven dance beats, shards of static, fiery feedback, and bells and whistles which you may not expect. And it’s not all pre-programmed either- sure, there are enough machines milling away to make NASA jealous but there are three guitarists, a string quartet, and a choir of backing vocals here as well and everything coming through the big speakers in the fittingly beautiful Bush Hall feels real, organic, and vitally alive.

And that proves essential as the show begins not with any warm, familiar favourites but a brace of titles from new album ‘A Chorus of Storytellers’. These songs could have sounded cold or callous or distant but instead feel fully fleshed-out and finely realized- ‘Perro’ a barely-there alien-song of an introduction, ‘There Is a Wind’ expanded from its already rock song beginnings until there’s almost too much going on at once, and ‘Stand Still’ shimmering and essential. The full band treatment isn’t always perfect for the softest of the band’s back catalogue, for songs barely a step up from silence on record but oh-so-serene and special, but tonight’s set doesn’t stop long enough to let any negative thoughts linger. Before you can grimace long at the drums thundering newly through ‘The Outer Banks’, tape loops lope from nowhere, synching with the projections put giant on the venue walls, to steal your heart and instead of debating the introduction of anything but delicate icicle chimes into ‘Vermillion’ you can only hold your breath as its new walls of sound build and collapse and start to build again. Alarms, surprises, and everything and nothing that was expected then- and people say post-rock is boring.

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