Friday, September 09, 2022

Saint Leonard celebrates new single release with a scintillating show at the Windmill

Saint Leonard is back on stage. 

The eclectic singer-songwriter has recently released his new single, Soul Survivors, the first of a series of new tracks developed in collaboration with Nathan Saoudi and Alex White (elsewhere seen playing with the Fat White Family, among others). 

The duo joined him on stage for an intense Friday night at the Brixton Windmill. It was a celebration of the new release and a sneak peek into the brand new, far more experimental sound Saint Leonard has been chasing with his recent work. 

The gig also felt like a celebration of music as a whole; a late summer treat that felt introspective, liberating, and the perfect example of what the contemporary grassroots scene is capable of when it sets out to impress.

The Windmill is the perfect setting for a show like this and for a long time has been a favoured haunt of music lovers in the capital, and not by coincidence. It is the kind of intimate setting that fosters a real connection between the artist and the audience – a connection that is essential for unleashing the complete potential of rock music, which in this age of stadium mega-shows, where theatrics override emotions, is increasingly lost elsewhere. The venue also allows for a true sense of community, a feeling that music and its performance is not something to be consumed but something to be experienced, both by those who manifest it on stage and by those who witness it in the audience.

Saint Leonard is an artist who clearly has a deep awareness of this fact. The emotional link that the set created with an increasingly entranced audience was palpable, almost electric in nature. It helped that the music is rock-pop, as it was truly sharp, innovative, complex, danceable and at the same time trance-like. This immersive experience combined with an impressive range of sound, going from the earworm-like ease of the new single (one has to wonder how many audience members have been humming it non-stop since) to the scattered complexity of the more compositionally challenging tracks. These blend together so many different hidden meanings that one might be tempted to sit down to unpack them all and yet lose none of their immediacies in the moment. This is music that is well grounded in the glories of classic rock and it has a unique retro quality to it. The whole show felt like jumping in a time machine to an alternate universe of the roaring rock Seventies that never actually existed.

The technical complexity of the performance was impressive, making things sound smooth and easy. Those who herald the trend of over-simplifying pop in order to preserve the accessibility of the experience may want to take notes from Saint Leonard. He is an impressive vocalist, bringing to the stage the same clarity of timbre, texture and emotion that he delivers in his produced work. It is always a rare treat to see a performer that can do everything on stage that he does in the studio. The ability to perform a high-energy, quasi-psychedelic, experimental track with the same ease as the most classic of ballads is truly impressive. It helps that everyone on stage had an innate quality of showmanship; Leonard himself was light-footed on stage in a slick white suit that could have been worn by an early-eighties David Bowie. Everyone on stage seamlessly showed multi-instrumentalist skills in an experience that was almost magnetic in nature.

A word must be spent for the supporting acts too; two stripped-down solo sets by Zsa Zsa Sapien (Meatraffle, Scud FM) and Lias Saoudi (Fat White Family) managed to cover a remarkable amount of emotional ground from the amusing to the deeply touching to the frankly unsettling. These sets would deserve a discussion of their own – another brick in the wall of a night of music that conclusively showed that performance is art and when approached as art, it creates something memorable. 

Chiara Strazzulla


Images: Chiara Strazzulla, Saint Leonard live at the Windmill

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