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Jamie Lenman with an extended 7-piece band in a swanky venue in Islington

Jamie Lenman Hawk Eyes poster

The Islington Assembly Hall is not a regular stop on the London gig circuit, especially for the types of shows that usually appeal to us at The Monolith. The thick carpets in the areas outside the hall itself, the exceptionally friendly staff and toilets that don’t carry a smell potent enough to interfere with your power of sight give the venue more of the feel of a hall in an exceptionally expensive public school. Which is nice.

The crowd, too, is a mixed bunch, reflecting the eclectic nature of Jamie Lenman‘s debut solo album Muscle Memory. Dillinger Escape Plan tees and freshly pressed shirts rub shoulders, and there are more than a couple of items of Reuben merchandise being sported. Muscle Memory is probably the best album we completely missed last year, and hearing tales of a masterful set at Takedown from people whose opinions we trust ensured our attendance tonight.

Opening proceedings are Hawk Eyes, from Leeds. I’ve heard approving things said about the hard-rocking quartet, who until a few of years ago were known as Chickenhawk, but whilst their set starts relatively strongly, it doesn’t quite hit the spot for me.

Their no-nonsense riffing comes across like a very polite version of the Melvins, and the songs don’t turn out to have quite the bite they threaten to have, so the net result is somewhat pedestrian. The band do function as a competent unit, which itself is fairly remarkable as their drummer has only joined the band within the last month. Had vocalist Paul not pointed this out, I doubt anyone would have realised.

Unfortunately, it is the vocals that seem to really let the songs down, and they feel rather limp and often monotone; Paul’s voice falls between being gruff enough to bark and melodious enough to sing. Pity.

Jamie Lenman’s ‘heavy mellow’ backing band file onto stage one-by-one. The drummer is first out, and immediately starts the drum roll intro to “Fizzy Blood“, which sets the pace for the rip-roaring first of four distinct segments to the 75 minute set.

Neither Chris or myself have spent much time listening to Jamie’s previous band Reuben before tonight. This is more a sin of omission than a conscious choice, however it is clear from the near-orgasmic reaction of parts of the crowd to “Song For Saturday“, the first of a clutch of Reuben songs dotted through the set, that we are in the minority.

After four or five weightier numbers, the backing band departs and a roadie decked in the same function band garb pops out to switch Jamie’s electric for an acoustic. He strums his way through “It’s Hard To Be A Gentleman” and the crowd sings along with him, and fills in the backing vocals unprompted on “I Ain’t Your Boy“. Considering Jamie was screaming his lungs out moments beforehand, the fact the change of pace feels so natural is remarkable.

After four or five acoustic songs, the arrival of the horn section heralds the third act of the set, with “Shotgun House” being literally the first song the expanded band have played together on stage. The horns are bright, tight and as consummately professional as the rest of the band.

Jamie throws a curveball by chucking in a cover of a somewhat obscure musician called CW Stoneking, called “The Love Me Or Die” which is bewitching enough to make me download the original the moment I get home. That doesn’t happen often. The horn section really come into their own during the big band swing of “Pretty Please“, which looks as much fun to play as it is to watch.

All The Things You Hate About Me, I Hate About You” segues us into the final, heavier section of the set, and the contrast with the light and breezy music that has preceded it damn near rips our heads off. Life, as a great man once said, is all dynamics. “Six Fingered Hand“, with its masterly outro (SLLLOOOOWWWEEEERRR) and “Muscle” round off the encore-less set, and the whole thing feels like it has passed in a heartbeat, which is always a good sign.

Throughout the set, Jamie comes across as amiable, wryly amusing, self-effacing and utterly devoid of any pretentions. He says from the stage it has been his favourite show, and its probably the best we’ve seen so far this year.

Jamie will be appearing at ArcTanGent this year, and I will definitely be making the time in my weekend to see him again. If you’re there – or indeed if he plays anywhere near you – you should take the time as well. Outstanding stuff.