The evening was sure to start well, Leaf after all being one of the most charming venues in the whole of Liverpool, and definitely the best for hot tea-leaf based beverages. As I nestled into a corner seat (Leaf gigs are a half seated half standing affair) I was optimistic for the evening ahead. Cue the brilliantly named Hilary and the Democrats to begin their set. All in all a pleasingly foot-tapping affair awash with rolling bass lines, retroscaped keyboards and all the upbeat chord progressions you’d expect from a supporting indie collective. Even the tendency to stray a little out of time signatures was forgiveable due to the outright jubilance of their drummer.
In an instant the proverbial baton was handed to The Swapsies, who proceeded to throw it among themselves for thirty minutes or so with no particular direction. Staying true to their name each new song heralded a different line-up, the drummer remaining the only constant throughout. The guitarist swapped instruments with the bassist, who swapped with the acoustic guitarist, who took on lead vocals etc. Despite their opening song being heart-meltingly endearing and seemingly plucked straight out of a romcom, the swapping grew from an interesting gimmick to an unsettling and, at times, cumbersome anchor for the act. Audience heads began to stare at feet and applause became a polite inevitability, as the set drew to its close.
By the time Stephen Black, heading his Sweet Baboo troop, took to the stage the audience space was crammed to capacity and the low hum of anticipation quite literally erupted upon realisation the beginning of the set was upon us. Judging by the twitching limbs and giddy whispering among my fellow audience members, it’s probably fair to say most people present at Leaf had purchased both 2013 releases by Sweet Baboo, Ships and Motorhome Songs, and probably attended his recent summer tour as well.
As opener “The Morse Code for Love…” began, such popularity appeared completely warranted. I expected tentative lyrics and quirky riffs, but was presented with a stomping American bluesy backtrack underlying undeniably catchy verse. This transitioned into “I’m a Dancer” who’s contrasting country vibes were not forced, but seemed completely organic, despite clashing in genre with the previous opening track. Throughout the night the cohesion between all the musicians clearly separated Sweet Baboo as the headline act and provided ample foundation for Black’s impressive vocal range to shine through.
Indeed, it was this variety in vocal range that kept the set, which was almost double in length to that of the support acts, interesting for the audience. From raspy soul to the accent inflections required to make the country sounds seem genuine, all the tracks had individual identity, but were unmistakably “Sweet Baboo”. Black’s self deprecating charm between songs, as well as hinting at a career in comedy to fall back on, endeared the act further to his already adoring fans, a formula which resulted in an evening which could please even the most steely-faced critics.