LIVE: Jamie Lenman: Separation Event

By Fiachra Johnston

2020’s ‘King of Clubs’ was a new milestone for Surrey-born illustrator and ex-Reuben front man, Jamie Lenman. Dirty and dark, the seven-track EP was a more streamlined, simplistic sound compared to previous works but it continued to play to the strengths of this charismatic, brace-wearing veteran of the UK scene, and has only raised his stock as a musician capable of creating diverse soundscapes. 18 months later, we’re finally getting the album played through in all its cursed glory through ‘Separation Event’, in collaboration with Audiotree. This isn’t just an EP run through, though. Much like one of his live shows, every song is interspersed with Jamie himself, waxing lyrical on how the songs came together and ruminating on their meaning. These black-and-white vignettes featuring the ever-charming and contrastingly soft-spoken Lenman, mixed with the vulgar display of sonic and vocal power of the ‘King of Clubs’ EP, make for a bleak and brilliant virtual experience.

After a warm introduction from Lenman, we kick off with ‘Summer of Discontent (The Future is Dead)’, Lenman’s anthem of rage against the failings of higher authority. It’s a signature piece of the record, one that immediately leaps into that streamlined but heavier style ‘King of Clubs’ thrives in. Wargasm’s Sam Matlock fills in for the missing Illaman feature of the studio version in a brutal manner only he would be capable of, and he exemplifies one of Separation Event’s highlights: its stacked list of guest features. Joining Lenman and session drummer/former Arcane Roots member Jack Wrench is an absolute cavalcade of guest performers, some exclusive to this session, and some replacing features from the studio album, such as Will Gardner of Black Peaks filling in for Pete Fraser of Down I Go on ‘Sleep Mission’, one of Jamie’s favourite tracks of the album. Gardner’s frantic saxophone adds a whole other level of chaos to Lenman’s “nonsense poem” about astral projection. It’s one of his favourite tracks for a reason, as this unorthodox jazz-punk fusion steps outside his usual musical repertoire to deliver a show highlight.

The sensual and seductive ‘Like Me Better’ follows on, featuring Burlesque dancer (and Jamie’s wife) Katie Lenman performing in reference to its music video. Once again, simplicity shines through in the sly synths and chugging bass on this live version of a rather laid back song, contrasting against the most brutal track of the album that follows it, ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend’, featuring Damien Sayell of St. Pierre Snake Invasion. The tinges of IDLES and SPSI Lenman mentions in his monologue are a little clearer in the live performance, and his judgement that Damien should have been the one to perform it on the album is not unfounded, as the combined efforts of Lenman’s lyricism and Sayell’s vocals ends up being even more of a rip-roaring, heart-pounding experience than its studio counterpart (my god can Sayell scream).

‘The Road To Right’, devised during the production of Lenman’s cover album ‘Shuffle’, arrives next, offering a taste of his older work, one that is a nice nostalgic aside in tribute to two decades of music. Jamie Double joins for a circus balancing act, infusing Jamie’s old musical style with a visual spectacle. If ‘Road to Right’ is classic Lenman, however, then follow-up ‘Kill Me’ is Lenman at his apex. Styled as one of his favourite songs to record and joined by producer Space on vocals, it’s a concentrated blast of nihilism. Brash and lusty, blunt and sharp all at once, it’s an all-encompassing track that captures the mood of Separation Event quite nicely. ‘King of Clubs’, Lenman’s first instrumental piece, closes the main EP performance out, and when the artist has scrapped the lyrics to a song because he believes in the instrumental build, you can trust things are ending on a spectacle. Featuring Jen Hingley of False Advertising on piano – a new live addition to the track – it’s a dark, suspenseful, and ultimately explosive piece that keeps the anxiety high as it wraps up a seven track rollercoaster of some of Jamie’s hardest songs to date.

Separation Event also features three bonus performances: two new tracks ‘Powerless’ and ‘Mistakes’ , and a spoken word adaptation of the album’s inlay monologue, ‘Kids’, originally conceived as the lyrics for ‘King of Clubs’. While the monologue feels a little out of place compared to the well flowing EP playthrough (perhaps stemming from its awkward placement between the record playthrough and the new tracks), these two additional tracks, dubbed “not as sleazy” in terms of content by Lenman, are welcome additions to the discography. The Heavy-with-a-capital-H ‘Powerless’ is a chugging symphony of catharsis featuring some truly magnificent drumming from Wrench, while ‘Mistakes’ (with guest hoop performances from cabaret performer Chi-Chi Revolver) closes the event with “something more jaunty”, a bombastic finishing performance that’s sharp in both its instrumental and vocal performances, a rather iconic ending to a Lenman event. These two tracks are yet to have a studio version recorded, which is a shame as they’re wonderful surprises to an already solid livestream show.

With performances alongside commentary and guest musicians aplenty, Jamie Lenman’s Separation Event displays his particular brand of musical mayhem in tremendous live(ish) fashion. Audiotree shows this year have always featured a healthy dose of the artists personality injected into them, and Lenman’s flavourful performances and behind the scenes monologues make for a stellar virtual show. With live events slowly starting to open up again, Separation Event both highlights the unique elements a streamed concert can bring to the table, and gives us a most enjoyable preview of the musical warpath that’s due to take place once Jamie is set loose on the world again.