Gig review: Damien Jurado & The Heavy Light at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Damien Jurado
Damien Jurado
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“Could you come back and play some of your old songs?” A fan calls out following Damien Jurado’s declaration of love for the Brudenell towards the end of tonight’s triumphant set. “No, I don’t feel like it,” the based songwriter replies in a mock sulk.

Most musicians would be sent home in tar and feathers if they ignored vast chunks of their back catalogue in a live setting. Jurado, however, is absolutely correct to focus on his three most recent albums to the point where the earlier material might as well not exist. Not that there’s anything wrong with the old stuff, on the contrary; it just sounds a bit too house-trained next to model 2016 Jurado.

It’s not exactly common for artists to wait until album number 10 to discover their true musical identity. 2012’s Maraqopa, however, marked the point when Jurado quit being a solid music-maker to become a truly inspired and intriguing one. 2014’s Brothers And Sisters of the Eternal Son and this year’s flab-free double opus Visions Of Us On The Land – both also produced by Richard Swift – have further fine-tuned that game-changing record’s blend of beautiful, otherworldly melancholia and psychedelically throbbing, cosmos-cruising arrangements; taken together, the loosely themed trilogy – centred on the fictitious locale of Maraqopa, with elements of sci-fi, religious imaginary, mystical visions and good old-fashioned heartache -constitutes one of the strongest and strangest musical U-turns in recent years.

Impressively, this headily pulsating stuff sounds even more intense live. At first, the atmosphere emitted from the stage is one of rapt concentration, with few diversions from the studio-assembled script and barely a nod to the near-capacity crowd. That hardly matters though; witnessing Jurado and four-piece band The Heavy Light locate the intoxicatingly unexpected juxtaposition between a mood of displaced longing and brain-melting sonic stretching-out on the likes of Exit 353 – with pulverising drums that appear to channel the pounding ghost of John Bonham - in the flesh is exciting enough.

There are subtle bows towards the rock’s back pages – The Magic Number dips into the opening chords of Nick Drake’s At The Chime of a City Clock, whilst the dramatic ending to the swirling Jericho Road nods slyly towards Ian Gillan’s tonsil-straining wail on Deep Purple’s Child In Time – but ultimately the seamless symbiosis of heavy grooves, analogue keyboard wig-outs and Jurado’s razorsharp, emotionally resonant songwriting – delivered in a voice coated in an echo chamber’s worth of reverb for added ghostliness – offers the freshest angle on vintage psych-rock worship we’ve had the pleasure to encounter for ages.

Egged on by a more than enthusiastic reception, the songs soon begin to stretch and expand. By the main set-closing Taqoma, Jurado is wielding his acoustic guitar like a battle axe, before ditching the instrument altogether to conduct the almighty freak-out bubbling around him whilst balancing on the chair he’s been parked on until now, classic urban folk style in choice of seating arrangements if not in musical execution.

Just in case anyone’s wondering whether all those keyboard squeals and limber bass lines have been enlisted to divert attention from shortcomings in the source materials, the solo encore of Kola – a stunning, sparse declaration of devotion – and Metallic Cloud – an unfathomable yet deeply moving ode to some far-away brand of universal unease – proves that Jurado’s newfound interest in weirded-out musical templates has coincided with him hitting a new peak as a songwriter. 

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