July 14, 2024

The Van Pelt – Live in Leeds 2023 – “and you never felt more alive / than when the priest came to read you your rites”

Live at Wharf Chanbers, Leeds 16th March 2023

It’s a strange one tonight – lots of forty-somethings, here to welcome a minor cult band that took up hours on their Walkmans and CD players in the mid-nineties in their teenage bedrooms – but there’s a new album out tomorrow and they’ve only heard a couple of the songs. Happily soaking it up, the handful of new songs aren’t ignored, though a selection of the oldies get an excited reception.

We knew it would be a mix and the band spell that out by opening with ‘Let’s Make A List’, a chatty meander from the first album then going straight to a song from three decades later. That stand-out second track was the superb ‘Image Of Health’ from the new album, with chiming guitar dual, twined vocals and propulsive bass, allied to the chorus: “and you never felt more alive / than when the priest came to read you your rites”. It highlighted the ringing guitar figures, played on very thin strings and chiming in an Edge-like way.

Throughout, the bass is solid and thrusting – perhaps it couldn’t be anything else, taking centre-stage. Apparently Chris Leo doesn’t like that spot. Stage right, his vocals, narrating the pieces are always a feature but more a part of a sound than distinct words live, getting lost in the mix. Not to worry; a good half the sold-out crowd know most of the words anyway. Elsewhere, ‘Artists and Merchants’ is as much a martial march as on record, and ‘Old Souls’ a deep rubbery, bass-led wander. Much of the newer material is a bit more intense than previously, like ‘Grid’, rattling crazily through the random hurtle they remember from the nineties.

We hear a fistful of tracks from each of the earlier albums and get the mix – from the pensive ones to the frantic rush and energy. The sound is rich, with the stylish guitar figures, the personal vocals and the deep slid bass. It’s a relaxed hour, with a happy and chilled audience in Leeds’ friendliest (but darkest) venue. “What have you been up to?” someone asks from the floor and Barry London replies “kids, jobs, Covid, sort-a-thing” – “oh and Chris has a wine store now”. Life moves on and instead of a ‘hits’ revival, the band bring old and new here, the new being a reflection and reinvention of their past. It’s all very welcome and the band don’t even bother leaving the stage at the end of the set, preferring to linger and then slowly agree to play a few more without any of that shouting and stamping. Just as well – Wharf Chambers doesn’t have a backstage to lurk in.

The first ‘encore’ is ‘Did We Hear The Same Song’, doing a waltz time, tripping beat and the others, the beloved older material. And, with that, the band head for the merch table to chat and sign stuff. It’s been a new discovery for some, a renewed celebration for others and, for some, a puzzle as to why the band aren’t better known.

Special mention goes to Objections, the openers – two of Leeds legends, Bilge Pump, and Claire Adams on inventive bass. Full of verve, the band combine post-punk bass sounds with jagged guitar and produce something well-worth revisiting regularly.

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