Gig review: Daniel Rossen at Left Bank, Leeds

A hushed solo acoustic set in a grand old church doesn’t seem like the most obvious setting for spontaneous and vocal expressions of enthusiasm. Even so, about halfway through tonight’s set, an excited audience member lets out the kind of excitable yelp that’s usually only encountered in rock action contexts.
Daniel Rossen. Picture: Amelia BauerDaniel Rossen. Picture: Amelia Bauer
Daniel Rossen. Picture: Amelia Bauer

The almost reverential atmosphere that descends over Left Bank during Daniel Rossen’s set suggests that the wordless heckle may be loaded with some degree of sarcasm. Until you take in the intensity of Rossen’s performance, that is.

Acutely allergic to the meat-and-potatoes strum of most guitar-wielding solo performers, and equipped with judiciously administered virtuoso chops that often give the distinct impression that at least two guitarists must be on hand to produce the intricate patterns, the former Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles member isn’t the least bit fazed by the unenviable task of recreating the ornate arrangements and complex, restlessly spawling compositions on recently released, superlative first full solo album You Belong There.

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Rossen learned a number of instruments from scratch in order to record You Belong There with minimal outside assistance. The same industrious ambition extends to tonight’s solo renditions of the album’s highlights. It is truly awe-inspiring to witness Rossen to work his fingers to a frenzy in order to essentially recreate all the intertwined melody lines and logic-defying rhythmic shifts of, say, Unpeople Spaces with just a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar – whilst also singing. Next to this, Rossen’s turns at the piano – although impressive in their own right – seem relatively conventional.

The supernatural technique in evidence would make little difference if the songs weren’t up to the task. Although the Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles songs sprinkled throughout the set as well as cuts from 2012 solo EP Silent Hour/Golden Mile (“you know, keeping busy,” Rossen quips in reference to the decade between the EP and its recently released follow-up) also come across well, the intricately assembled, structurally and melodically challenging songs from You Belong There accrue additional depth and directness when presented in the simpler (relatively speaking) solo format, even if Rossen’s road-strained voice can’t quite hit some of the highest notes.

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