Attending a Led Bib gig was a long awaited pilgrimage for me. I have been aware of them since my school days, but have never been in the right time and place to attend a performance. The band, by their own admission, have been relatively dormant for the past two years for reasons undisclosed, and only recently regrouped for their latest monumental release, Umbrella Weather, which was released on RareNoise Records on January 20th.
For those who don’t know, Led Bib is a five piece ‘Modern Jazz’ band, specialising in a very unique brand of heavy, chaotic, and intricate jazz: ‘punk-jazz’, containing elements of rock, avant-garde and even acid. They careened unapologetically into the scene in 2005 with their Mercury nominated album Sensible Shoes containing the likes of ‘Sweet Chilli’.
The style is raucous and unsettling and was quite at odds with the scene at the time, which was more of a traditional, sedate, jazz-quintet-backing-with-individual-solos style. Led Bib, with their jarring sax and percussion, are anything but sedate; the two Alto Sax playing front men seem to have intermittent musical quarrels with each other, contrasted by harmonious/discordant duets.
The place was Kings Place, a popular arts space in the same building as The Guardians’ offices, close to Kings Cross and Central Saint Martins. Billed as the album launch for Umbrella Weather, it was the bands’ first ever performance in the venue as a group, and the seated nature of the hall seemed slightly at odds with the liveliness of the music – though not with the occupants of the seats who mostly seemed to be older jazz types.
Each piece was quietly introduced by the group’s drummer, Mark Holub, who served as spokesman throughout the event. The audience was transfixed by each meticulously performed piece, taken away on a jarring, psychedelic excursion into the outer reaches of jazz and electronic synthesis. Most pieces began either with keyboardist Toby McLaren (who sat between a Rhodes Piano, a Grand Piano and an original Arp Odyssey synth) laying down beautiful evolving soundscapes, rich jazz chords and almost percussive piano, or a piercing sax duet from frontmen Chris Williams and Pete Grogan, who stole the show with their insanely complex solos in contrapuntal conversation.
The band fed off its own energy, feeling the chaos that was so perfectly arranged and organised. The drumming was heavy, and bore elements of metal with its proclivity for heavy kick and cymbal usage and the sheer urgency and loudness. With Led Bib, there doesn’t seem to be any concept of major and/or minor: the idea of free-jazz is taken to the extreme, with semi-tonal jumps galore. The contrast between each section in each piece is very marked, going from evolving soundscape, to slapped-bass by Liran Donin, to sax duet, to heavy drum solo.
For me, the most captivating moment of the performance had to be the end of ‘Woman’s Power’, which goes from jazz-rock mayhem to drum solo with Rhodes playing a soft march underneath (an echoing theme throughout), to just Rhodes, left bare at the end, repeating the march with a marked ritardando. The harsh white lights in the black room laid the scene bare – it was such a tense moment that I gripped my plastic beer glass tighter causing a click which echoed around the room (such was the quietness).
The performance ended with a heroic performance of ‘Ceasefire’, which seems to be the ‘single’ off the album.
The band left the stage to roaring applause and standing ovation, having thanked their fans for the continued support, and came on for a short encore to round off the performance. They will be playing all over the UK, Germany and Japan, with tour dates listed on their website, and returning to London on May 3rd and 4th to play at Vortex Jazz club in Dalston.