The Leela Fiasco – Smoke & Mirrors

The Leela Fiasco
Smoke & Mirrors

Combining bits and pieces of jazz, fusion, psychedelic, and straightforward rock into seven long instrumental pieces, The Leela Fiasco are clearly trying to do something different. Unfortunately, they don’t succeed, coming off as something more akin to a Phish or Grateful Dead opening band than anything else.
There’s only so far that an improvisational style can take you. On Smoke & Mirrors, these three guys play guitar, bass, and drums with a lot of talent but not much originality. Instead of using their talent to perform tightly structured songs, they create flowing, uncertain pieces that head in one direction before faltering just as you get comfortable and going in an entirely different direction altogether. I’m left feeling like The Leela Fiasco is a group of friends playing their own brand of roots-rock without a long enough attention span or the clever lyrics necessary to make the songs stick.
The production on this album doesn’t do much for me either. From the start, it sounds as if these songs were recorded on the fly, live, with little or no prep work. The drums are booming and hollow, the guitar relatively crisp but thick, and the bass all but nonexistent on many of these tracks. Then again, if this purported to be a live CD, I’d say it sounded pretty decent.
The Leela Fiasco try to fool you into believing there’s only seven songs on this CD, but don’t be fooled. Long periods of silence interrupt songs just as they get going, and the band heads off in another direction entirely as they pick up again. “Face Front,” for example, runs from meandering rock to heavy classic rock ala Clapton and Santana. Around the 5 minute mark, it fades away again, coming back quite and experimental for what should be track three. On “Millipede,” the trio gets down and dirty into jamming, and while they prove they have the flare for drawn-out rambling numbers, I lose interest even before it breaks down into mindless bass and guitar noodling that at times is downright painful. There’s another of those painful lags in “If I Only…” that drags on way too long and then another 30 or 40 seconds of pointless silence at the end. “Across the Shifting Sands” is almost 10 minutes long, and much of it is quiet bits of guitar or drums, sparse and seemingly senseless, although there are some nice moments of rocking guitar work. “Demon?” and “Sam’s the Man” are pretty similar, going on with a quieter, languid pace and simple instrumentation over some jazzy percussion. Just as I’m falling asleep for good, “Acidgrass” ends with the best track here, a kind of retro psychedelic burst of guitar rock – by the end, at least – that gives me hope for these guys.
Well, I give these guys credit. They do know how to play their instruments, and they probably have a good time jamming. But they don’t create regular song, instead interspersing pieces of decent guitarwork and drumming with long periods of silence or incoherent noodling. There are some excellent moments here, but as a whole, this is much more of a live band than a suitably listenable album.