Tonight sees Jamie Lenman play his biggest headline show to date, and the fact that it’s the 800-capacity Islington Academy and not one of its bigger O2 sister venues in Shepherd’s Bush or Brixton will forever mystify MonkHammer. Following some remarkably enjoyable if somewhat overly Pixies/Nirvana-influenced grunge at the hands of Brighton three-piece Gender Roles, a brief interaction over a tepid pint of Carlsberg sums up the joy of such an event: “So, what can I expect tonight?”, to which the response is a succinct “Fuck knows”, such is the eclecticism of Lenman’s output. As it turns out, the faithful are treated to folk, bluegrass, alt-rock, acoustic grunge and straight out noise terror, as Lenman dips freely into his entire back catalogue with an inclusivity that makes you feel like you’re supporting your best mate at an open-mic night down the local.
Entering a minimalist stage to the minimalist intro of minimalist anthem Hardbeat with minimal fuss, Lenman and drummer Dan Kavanagh are resplendent in all-white, ensuring that all eyes are aimed squarely at them throughout, making this most intimate of songs that much more personal. When it peaks with Dan twatting his drums and Jamie squeezing discordant jitters from his guitar like a tube of lumpy toothpaste, there is only one figure that springs to mind: the late, great Prince. The passion with which Lenman becomes lost in the meshing of man, guitar and music is mesmerisingly reminiscent of the diminutive purple one as he sashays around his instrument like it is part of his soul, capturing the attention of everyone in the room for the duration of the next 90 minutes. It’s a stupefyingly strong start, but very much just the beginning, and on a night of such consistent brilliance, the highlights come thick and fast, meaning everyone in the room has a different favourite come the end. Perhaps it’s the double drum solo that fills the room like a sonic ball pit, proving Lenman can turn his hand to literally anything; or the ensuing switcheroo of Eating Only Apples that sees Kavanagh pick up a guitar while Lenman sings from behind said drums; or the juxtaposition of a set that can include both a hauntingly beautiful performance of Devolver and the feral attack of One Of My Eyes In A Clock, introduced with a cheeky “does anyone like jazz? Let’s play some jazz”. Maybe it’s the crowd’s four-part harmonising to the closing crescendos of I Don’t Know Anything; or the frankly ridiculous sing-along that accompanies a set closing Let’s Stop Hanging Out; or indeed the entire acoustic encore that risks ending the night on a damp squib but instead raises the roof with positivity and an enormous emotionally heft. When Lenman sings the words “I am irrelevant” with an 800-strong backing choir, it’s hard to agree with the sentiment, and tonight, he in anything but.