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Leopold & his Fiction supercharge a slow start to X Games music program

Deborah Sengupta

Editor’s note: This article was originally published June 6, 2014

“Today we’re probably gonna drop our folk songs, kind of leave those at the wayside, and just play 40 minutes of rock ‘n’ roll,” Daniel James, lead singer of Leopold and His Fiction said 30 minutes before his band played the on day one of X Games Austin. It was a solid strategy. Within minutes of the band taking KUTX Austin Music Experience stage the energy level in the Texas Ranch, one of the multiple far flung “festival villages” which comprise the X-Games complex at the Circuit of the Americas, ratcheted up significantly.

As the band charged forward with a muscular set chock full of blazing, soulful rock ‘n’ roll, what was very possibly the first respectable music crowd of the festival gathered to take it in. (Earlier in the day, at 1:30 p.m. California surf-rockers FMLYBND played the big stage at the 14,000 capacity Austin360 Amphitheater to an intimate gathering of maybe 30 people.)

James describes the band’s sound as a mash up of incongruent influences that enjoy a surprisingly happy convergence. Originally from Detroit, “Motown-raised,” James says R&B is a big element, as well as the volatile rock of MC5 and the wild punk energy of the Stooges that his mother loved. When they left Detroit the band travelled to California where they mixed in psychedelic fuzz and rootsy folk before landing in Austin three years ago. These days, though they call Austin home, the band spends roughly 250 days a year on the road. After playing the X-Games they were set to head to Wichita, Kansas for a gig tomorrow night.

All the time on the road has served them well. In addition to tight grooves, the band in general, and James in particular, bring incredible charisma to the stage. Whether it was playing a fast-paced indie rock cover of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” or coaxing a sing-along from a crowd of new fans on the original “Ain’t No Surprise” — “That’s good. For Tuesday at lunchtime,” he deadpanned after a half-hearted effort — James knew how to work the room.

When the band finished their set, the crowd cheered enthusiastically and for one of the first times of the day, the energy in the sleepy, Texas-themed village had some semblance of an “X-treme” vibe.