It may have been Lief Vollebekk’s smoky rendition of The Killers’ Read My Mind that introduced many music fans to the Montreal native’s distinctive brand of Americana on his debut record, but his latest album Twin Solitude does not require a cover version to attract an audience. Instead, Vollebekk lets his own elegiac songwriting do the talking. Building on the slow-burning qualities of his debut, the new record possesses an adroit ability to weave subtly evocative and cinematically spacious tales within Vollebekk’s tender and poignant soundscapes and the effect is mesmerizing.
This evening’s performance by Leif Vollebekk is actually a support slot opening for Gregory Alan Isakov and it would be remiss of me to not mention the headliner’s significant contribution to the evening considering how good tonight’s dose of live music really is from all involved. Unlike many support acts, Vollebekk plays a fundamental role in what ultimately becomes the highlight of 2017’s live music calendar so far.
Vollebekk is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist but much of the new album uses his distinctive keyboard sound to establish the sombre tones which form the foundation of his broad narrative tapestry and this is where we begin this evening. Understandably wanting to give the crowd a bit of a taster of Twin Solitude, Vollebekk opens with Vancouver Time and his erratic twitches and tics betray his complete immersion in the material and instantly bewitch a Manchester crowd that can sometimes be difficult to mute. This physicality, passionately kindled from within, dislodges vital equipment resting on top of the keyboard and it tumbles to the stage with a crash at the song’s conclusion. Vollebekk takes all this in his stride, adding a jocular twist to proceedings that certainly wouldn’t have emerged based on the solemn tone of the material alone. The good-natured mood in-between tracks continues when Vollebekk performs new song Appalachia Plain. He openly admits that he chose the name because it “sounded a bit like… something” and he was glad to learn that it actually was! He informs the partisan crowd that it’s a little country number and he proceeds to deliver on all fronts, generating the most delicious, booming tones on the acoustic guitar and harmonica. If his passion for storytelling is being compared to a certain Robert Allen Zimmerman, then it is this stretch of the show which confirms these similarities on a visual front as well. There is definitely a distinctive resemblance to a young Bob Dylan in these moments that is difficult to shake.
It is a short set and performing solo does not completely do all the tracks justice. The songs lack the vital percussive elements along with the mournful strings which enhance tracks such as the glorious Elegy, but Vollebekk’s humble presentation make the songs completely engrossing. It is therefore an absolute pleasure to be reacquainted with him when Gregory Alan Isakov who, midway through his own incredible set, coincidently delivered in almost complete darkness, invites him back to the stage to perform a quite remarkable duet which gradually emerges from a humorous repartee which could have been a song all on its own.
In an evening full of spontaneity, this was one of many standout moments performed by two gracious and incredibly talented performers. Leif Vollebekk will return to the UK in September when he supports Margaret Glaspy. You’d be remiss not to catch such an engaging musician in the small club environment where his music can be appreciated to its fullest.
Gregory Alan Isakov
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto