Leif Vollebekk has passed though Manchester twice already this year in supporting roles but his appearance at Gullivers this week was the first real opportunity to demonstrate his virtuosity on both keyboards and guitar and on vocals in a headline set.
He’s an effervescent character for sure and there’s a role for him across the road at the Frog & Bucket Comedy Club if he ever yearns for a career change. For a full five minutes before he has played a single note he chats to the audience, joking his way around a number of topics as if he’s a warm-up man for himself. Perhaps he’s been influenced too greatly by the Montreal Comedy Festival, in the city which so many musicians from Canada like him, and from North America generally, have chosen to make their home.
Included in those topics is a reference to Oasis being his girlfriend’s favourite band and to Bob Dylan, whom he described as someone who you think would talk a lot but he actually says absolutely nothing during his shows while he, Leif, is someone you’d think, because of his small and slight stature would be quiet and restrained. Instead, he says, “you’ll find yourself wondering if I’m going to play any music at all.”
It’s all quite amusing and half the crowd is mesmerised while the other half is baffled. It is no surprise to learn he is a philosophy graduate. You do get the impression he is playing around with peoples’ minds at times, particularly so during an extended exchange part-way through the show that revolves around interplay between the words ‘no’ and ‘know’, like a 1970’s Two Ronnies TV sketch. He thinks Manchester audiences are more “knowing” than others on the circuit but it’s clear some members of this one aren’t sure if they know what he’s talking about.
Then he wanders off into a rambling story about the film Contact and who the actors are in it and he is in danger of losing his own contact with the audience.
Regrettably it all gets to be a little too much at times. Manchester audiences are prone to letting performers know when they demand songs, not chit-chat, but Leif’s charm wins them over.
As for those songs, it appears that Leif makes up his set list on the hoof, and he does attune it to the locality. Included are a couple of covers; one of Jeff Buckley’s which can be risky but he handles it with aplomb and he finishes up with a rousing version of ‘Champagne Supernova’. Actually that was the second Oasis cover of the evening, Leif having cleverly adjusted the opening bars of his first number, Vancouver Time, to make it sound like ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. There can’t be many better ways of getting a set under way here and it guaranteed the audience sing-a-longs that he generated later.
Switching between keys (electric piano and synths, his trademark sound) and guitar, much of the set consists of songs from his third album, Twin Solitude, which was released earlier this year. He writes serious, thoughtful and, yes, philosophical, songs, many of them concerned with his travels and experiences during them, observing life’s many twists and turns and chronicling them by way of reference to something as abstract as a road sign or an event in a TV show.
He is a blender of musical styles as much as he is a wordsmith. He isn’t easy to pigeonhole; intrinsically an exponent of a soulful ‘indie-folk’ but with elements of pop, blues and even country thrown into the mix.
He’s an interesting guy to watch as well, especially when he’s perched at his piano, seeming to indulge in aerobic exercises with his arms and upper body, while sometimes shifting around uncomfortably as if he’d sat on a wasps nest. While he is a very capable keyboardist it is on the guitar that he really shines.
Leif Vollebekk’s an all-round entertainer, a musician and performer who can only continue to improve and no-one can complain that they don’t get their money’s worth out of him. What he might consider doing is to tell the audience what the songs are called and what he’s singing about (as he has done in previous Manchester shows this year). While plenty of the audience members knew the words even to some of his more obscure songs others were seeing him for the first time.
Also, he might reflect, as philosophers do, that stories, jokes and wisecracks are often better in smaller doses.
Ample support came from late stand-in We Were Strangers, a Manchester-based folk trio who produce memorable harmonies and an, at times, a dynamic performance.
Photo courtesy of Leif Vollebekk Facebook page