Headrow House, Leeds, Saturday 27 January 2024
Sam Greenfield has stormed the streaming and social media world recently, with two albums of hits that ooze powerful funk, and drip jazz, pop and groove. Having already justified the journey from the US to the UK in Marmite purchases, a Saturday night in Leeds was next on the shopping list. A city brimming with exciting musical exploits, especially in the contemporary jazz scene.
KONL is one of these Leeds acts. Opening the evening for Sam Greenfield, Conall Mulvenna drew the audience in with his warmth, infectious humour, and excellent songwriting. There were hints of Prince and Phil Collins (*that* snare sound) in “Do You Ever Think About Me” and of the 1975 in “Everything All The Time”. “Salve Regina – Hail Holy Queen” stood out with its soft, Latin pop feel, and KONL’s humorous writing coming to the fore. The duo of guitar and drums were joined by Alex Fisher on tenor sax who shone on “Friend of Mine”. By this stage, the crowd were delighting at every morsel of funk that KONL was serving up, with “Shakshuka” being no exception, and Headrow House was ready for Sam Greenfield to take to the stage.
It is difficult to view Sam Greenfield’s act without appreciating the ironic tendencies that run through his work like a hilarious thread. I’m still not sure how many people got the Autumn Leaves joke at the beginning of his set, nor the Great American Songbook-esque ballad “Cheeks” (featuring his fiancé Phoebe Katis on vocals). Sam’s music transcended the ridiculous humour (including band members wearing matching tees with their names on) and played carefully into the hands of the sublime with a tightness and stage presence that left me eating out of the palm of their hand. This was a mesmerizing set, full of everything you could wish for in a funk/pop/jazz/groove crossover act. I was a little disappointed there was no horn section on this leg of the tour, but this did not detract from the band’s set. Sam’s alto and bari playing is a tour-de-force of power, sound and complexity, with his solo lines never running out of juice (were they fueled by Marmite?). Bubbling, pocket-filling playing was Russ Gelman’s vibe all night on guitar, when he wasn’t linked seamlessly with Sam’s anthemic sax lines.
Their set flew by, and people’s feet were moving more and more as the gig progressed. “Kidz Bop” was the encore. Such were the levels of fandom in the room, a choreographed dance erupted at the front, taking the band by surprise. It seems like their UK tour has surpassed the band’s expectations. It must be incredibly nerve-wracking to book a tour informed mostly by streaming statistics from various cities, but the pay-off surely has to be fan connection. It was clear that Sam Greenfield has fans in Leeds, and gained more than a heaped teaspoon of Marmite more during the gig. Europe is next on the band’s shopping list.