Living Body

Leeds-based alternative rock band makes music that's expansive and intimate

By Rev. Adam McKinney on June 29, 2017

The regions where you're born and grow up color every aspect of your life, with every nuance of the area resulting in people leading very different lives from each other. It should come as no surprise, then that these regions develop their own unique pockets of musical output. Even restricting the topic to English-speaking areas that have been touched by Western culture, the range of styles and genres that pop up reflect the wide array of differences that make music an ever-changing, breathing art form. In the Pacific Northwest, for instance, blue-collar liberalism gives birth to loud, politically-minded music, and its verdant scenery nurtures various forms of folk, country and bluegrass.

Manchester, England's ‘80s scene was so thriving and specific that it merited its own subgenre: madchester. Influenced by the likes of New Order and the Smiths (and a heavy dose of MDMA), madchester combined elements of alt-rock, acid house, and psychedelia into a dizzy stew, and was made up of bands such as Happy Mondays, the Stone Roses, James, and the Mock Turtles. Just an hour away, though, is Leeds, Yorkshire, which has also fostered an inspiring music scene full of unbridled artistic expression. Bands that emerged from Leeds include Gang of Four, the Mekons, the Wedding Present, the Sisters of Mercy, Soft Cell, Kaiser Chiefs, and Wild Beasts.

That last band, Wild Beasts, is one of my favorites to come out of the past decade. Beginning with an aggressively flamboyant sense of pomp and theatricality, they've evolved into one of the most compelling purveyors of chilly, sophisticated electronica. They also share a member (Katie Harkin) with Living Body, who will be coming through Tacoma on July 6. Led by Jeff T. Smith - a native Chicagoan, though he's now based in Leeds - Living Body got its start in bold fashion, putting on a one-time show they called "Sonic Cauldron." The concept of the concert was to cocoon the audience in a specially designed circular PA system, so that the sound of the band enveloped them. From those ambitious starts, Living Body became a real band, including Smith, Harkin, Tom Evans, Alice Rowan, and Sarah Statham.

If it wasn't clear from the audaciousness of that first Living Body concert, this is a band that's not afraid to swing for the fences, as evidenced by their debut album, Body Is Working. Take the lead single, "I Recollect," for instance. It's lovely, entrancing number that glides by airy guitars and swelling violins, but there's nothing immediately offbeat about it. Smith says, though, that the songs was written almost entirely in a dream he had, where he found a long-lost demo containing the song. Though Smith generally takes lead vocals for Living Body's songs, Harkin steps to the fore, because Smith's dream dictated that the song be sung by a woman.

The majority of Body Is Working is built on simultaneously intimate and expansive songs that cherish the opportunity to let themselves breathe. Smith's voice recalls the warm elasticity of fellow Illinois native Andrew Bird. Like Bird, Smith is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist whose previous projects were all solo endeavors that utilized extensive looping. Now with a full band, Smith's songwriting style has simplified, allowing his soaring melodies to be the stars.

There's also an undercurrent of anxiety at play with Living Body. Dubbing their style of music "post-brexitcore," social consciousness bleeds in around the edges, with worries of the future and a preoccupation with uncertainty informing the lyrics. Living Body's stated goal is to inject joy into the lives of others, which music is uniquely capable of doing. No matter where you come from, music is always around to soothe and inspire.

Living Body, w/ Photon Pharaoh, Lenu, 9 p.m., Thursday, July 6, Cover TBA, The Valley, 1206 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253.248.4265,