- The in-form UK artist presents his acclaimed album, Nothing Is Still, in the Big Apple for the first time.
- It's always interesting when an artist takes both electronic music and live musicianship as seriously as Leon Vynehall does. His new show brings his recent RA-recommended album, Nothing Is Still, to life with the help of three jazz musicians playing a mix of electronic and acoustic instruments. Conceptually, the LP—in which he transcends the status of dance music producer to become a full-blown songwriter and musician—is an imagined soundtrack to the story of his grandparents' immigration from England to New York in the '60s. So it made sense to pull out all the stops for the run of three sold-out New York gigs, which took place at a 150-capacity Chelsea venue called The Kitchen, one of the city's oldest non-profit arts venues and a hub for many generations of the avant-garde.
The performance followed the arc of the album, opening with an overture of synth blasts and agile piano noodles layered with thick drones from an upright bass. The dense melodies made for a kind of sun-dappled shimmering that dazzled the ear. The lighting was simple and effective, mostly used to project single swaths of color or to emphasize dramatic surges and silences. Vynehall allowed space for jazz solos and brief improvisational moments, which could honestly have extended even longer without endangering the pacing.
One of the show's accomplishments was that it didn't feel like the musicians were chained to the rigid metronome of their machines. When machines and musicians interact, it often feels like they're forced to play around the quantized click of a sequencer, which takes some of the spontaneity out of it and kind of defeats the whole point. Vynehall avoided this pitfall by leaving all of the drums to the drummer, rather than using sequenced samples for the rhythmic backbone.
Generally the narrative arc of Nothing Is Still was well suited to the live context, since it's almost theatrical in the way it builds from calm to conflict and resolution. In the show's final moments, Vynehall got out from behind his machines to play a gentle solo passage on a grand piano, leaving the audience on a calming note.
It's rare to see a stage show with so many moving parts in an intimate venue like The Kitchen. In New York, though, it seems more artists are opting for consecutive nights in small rooms, rather than booking one night at a larger venue. It's something of a luxury to get this opportunity—paying the overheads on a venue three nights in a row isn't the economical option. In fact, nothing about this show seemed to cut costs. In the US in 2018, a place and time defined by austerity in the arts and a generally risk-averse cultural environment, artists at this level don't always have the resources for such an involved live show. Pulling it off isn't just an economic challenge but a logistical one. We as fans should be thankful to those who don't take the easy option.