Belgian quintet Balthazar were due to kick-off their 30-odd date European tour in Leeds before an extra date was added for the previous day in Brighton. Singer Jinte reveals the band have never played Leeds before, perhaps an explanation of the surprisingly thin crowd.
Anyway, for those lucky enough to take the plunge tonight first get to contend with Champs, an indie pop outfit from the Isle of Wight, whose name derives from the two band members’ surname, brothers Michael and David Champion. Here’s they’re aided by a third performer on bass and despite the sometimes interesting material and nice vocal harmonisation, the Indie/Americana sound produced perhaps missed the much needed bottom end that drums would bring.
Despite the small-ish crowd, once Balthazar are ensconced and into their rhythm, the audience members made up for their lack of numbers by really getting stuck into the material, adding to the experience for everyone. With Patricia Vanneste taking to the stage first for the string introduction to ‘Decency’ the opening number on cracking second album ‘Thin Walls’, she is soon joined by Maarten, Jinte, Simon and Michael and we are in business. ‘Then What’ sees Maarten in the lead vocal hot seat for this crisp upbeat rocker which they absolutely nail, Patricia with a keyboard slung over her shoulder as the soles of my Gazelles take a pounding. ‘Leipzig’ is next, boasting a somewhat eerie b-movie feel, and the desolation continues into ‘The Boatman’ although the song’s finish is beautifully drawn out. ’I Looked For You’ retains all of its loucheness from the recording and the very fine ‘Last Call’ has summer smash written all over it, the crowd readily agreeing.
I’ve a bit of a phobia about the random extra drum thing that some bands choose to do live and my heart sinks when bassist Simon does just that for ‘Listen Up’. I needn’t have worried though, the song is an absolute belter as we get a beautifully understated waltz with bits of Latin and jazz thrown in for good measure. ‘Fifteen Floors’ brings a welcome dose of heaviness after its piano intro and then we get the stylish and urbane ‘Bunker’ deservedly finding itself onto the 6music rebel playlist. The main set comes to a close with ‘Night Club’ a sleazy groover that for some reason, reminds me a little of Simple Minds’ ‘Waterfront’.
The encore consists of ‘Do Not Claim Them Anymore,’ funky and arty with lots of dancing, before we bid farewell with ‘Blood like Wine’ complete with mesmerising a cappella denouement.
Words - Mike Price
Read album review (Thin Walls) and interview with the band Here