Friday, 3 May 2019

Gig Review: Restorations with Tom May & Roger Harvey at Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds 22/4/19 (by Richard Mair)

It’s my first time at the Hyde Park Book Club. Nestled comfortably in the north of Leeds’ predominantly student orientated area and initial impressions whilst basking in the last of the Easter Bank Holiday sunshine is it’s very much like the legendary Brudenell Social Club which has been a staple on the Leeds scene for many a year – only much more DIY. This is acknowledged by Restorations leader Jon Louden towards the end of their set by saying that such venues need to be celebrated and held on to for allowing creativity; a sad indictment follows where Jon identifies it being similar to the types of spaces that helped the Philly scene flourish some 10 years ago. Having fallen in love with countless bands from scene over the years, it’s hard to hear that such venues are closing down and leaving such a fertile hotbed of punk rock talent with few places to develop and hone their craft. Top marks have to go then to the HPBC for creating such a brilliant, inclusive and unique space for such gigs. If anyone doubts its DIY credentials, I’m pretty sure a carpenter had just installed the toilet walls in the basement a mere couple of hours before doors; such is the rustic, wood panel affair erected off to one side of the room! It promises to be a truly special place!

Opening for Restorations are fellow Philly natives and leading lights, Tom May and Roger Harvey, who treated us to an acoustic set full of songs from Tom’s day job as half the front duo for The Menzingers, songs from Roger Harvey and a couple of covers – all crammed in between swigs from a bottle of Jack Daniels that’s keeping them company! I’m not overly familiar with Roger Harvey however it’s hard not to fall in love with him and his stories as he poetically discusses human connection, life, love and everything in between. His singer/songwriter style is lapped up by the crowd and songs such as “Two Coyotes” will definitely make me check out more. Of the covers it’s the flawless “Bankrobber” by The Clash that is the highlight. Inevitably sharing the stage with a bona-fide punk rock superstar mean it’s the songs of Tom May that many instantly recognise. Amongst them we are treated to “Ava House”, “House on Fire” and “Freedom Bridge” which all take on a more sombre tone within the acoustic setting. “Freedom Bridge” in particular wows with Tom stopping before each verse to introduce the characters the verse is based on. Hearing such anthems in an intimate setting is truly special and the duo easily stuns the room to silence. My personal highlights were the surprise performance of recent Menzingers single “The Freaks” and the set closer of “Burn After Writing”. Taken out of a raucous electric setting, you truly appreciate how great a songwriter Tom May is; and the next Menzingers album can’t come soon enough!

Talking about song writing skills, it’s something headliners Restorations have in abundance; coupled with an insane technical ability and one of the most captivating frontmen I’ve seen in a long time. Last year’s LP5000 was stunning and, as expected, this is a set that has a fair share of songs from this collection. Opening with one of their quieter, slower numbers “Melt” the band slowly entice everyone in to their charm. Its ambient sounds replicated perfectly by Louden, multi-instrumentalist Ben Pierce and guitarist Dave Klyman – a man whose whole performance is like a coiled spring of energy accompanied by numerous tics, flourishes and character that it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off him!

A slightly obvious and lazy comparison to make would be to The Hold Steady, especially when they open with “Positive Jam”. Using “Melt” this way is almost identical – it’s the calm before the storm – and when it arrives it does so with LP5000 opener “St.”. Its rhythmic approach punctuated by Louden’s more animated vocal delivery and the most gorgeous guitar tunes and licks, everything leading up to the explosive ending. It’s a breathless start delivered with aplomb and almost immediately the band lead into the first of the songs they’ll play from LP3 – “Tiny Prayers”. It’s one of the most straight forward rock songs off the last two releases and a joy to behold in a live setting. It’s also the first opportunity for drummer Jeff Myers to really let go; the introduction in particular is fierce before settling into a familiar rolling rhythm. Again it’s abundantly clear how well versed and organised they are as a unit, meeting the mid song pause perfectly!

Despite the heavier leaning toward LP5000 songs, it’s a number of older songs that really elicit smiles and sing-a-longs; probably due to their more straight forward approach. Fan favourite “New Old” from LP2 is stunning as is the performance of that album’s opening track “D”. For many, these songs will have been part of their introduction to the band given how explosive LP2 was and they are certainly greeted like old friends, as the band bulldoze through them with gusto and smiles on their faces. Of the newer songs, both “Caretaker” and “Non-Believer” are brought to life by the live setting. The latter a brilliant satire on our current political malaise that is engulfing both the UK and the US. “The Red Door” also makes an appearance – the lead song off of LP5000 – and again the wall of noise that accompanies it is stunning. It’s one of their faster songs and, driven by some impressive drumming, it’s a mid-set highlight for sure.

As with all good set lists, this one built towards the closing finale which kicks off with “Separate Songs”. I’d argue it’s possibly their most well-known song and rightly so. It’s a tour de force complete with everything that’s impressive about Restorations distilled into a 3:30 pop song. Despite a slightly odd tempo at the start, the band settle into it and ultimately smash out a stunning rendition before following up with the aforementioned “D” and “Non Believer”. The band end with their traditional set closer “Adventure Tortoise”, an epic Led Zeppelin inspired tune complete with epic solos and what is almost the closest thing we have to a Restorations anthem in the lines “...Where nobody knows your name”, which is sung back at the band with gusto by the front row! Given its constant changes in pitches, tones and pace, it’s impressive to see the rhythm section (completed by bassist Dan Zimmerman) keeping it together. “Adventure Tortoise” is the quintessential Restorations song and it’s truly wonderful in a live setting.

Given there isn’t anywhere for them to go, Louden suggests they have time for one more song as an encore. “The Future” is easily one of LP3’s highlights and it is yet another epic, drawn out, melodic wall of noise which brings the set down on high point. What is a 4:30 song on record is transformed into almost 10 minutes of jamming, every member instinctively knowing how everyone else will react at keeping the tune spinning. Most impressive again is Dave Klyman who on launching his pick decides to place the guitar on the floor and hammer out whatever tune he can using a combination of fists, fingers and nails to great effect. It’s massively smile inducing watching a band get lost in their own music in such a way; leaving everyone buzzing and almost reluctant to let them leave the stage. It’s been a good few years since they were over here and on this showing they’ll be welcomed back as returning heroes when they next visit these shores!

This review was written by Richard Mair.

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