Elizabeth Rose, Blue Light December 10, 2007 Larimer Lounge Better than: Fleetwood Mac (according to photographer Brian Carney)
Kudos to the Larimer Lounge (and booker John Baxter) for making the commitment to bring live music to the venue seven nights a week. It is exactly that kind of dedication and clarity of purpose that has fed and nurtured Denver’s music scene and its musicians in recent years. When it works, the music-every-night formula can mean that the joint is packed on a Thursday night for a touring band or even a particularly noteworthy local act. When it doesn’t work, however, the results can be downright depressing. Such was the case with last night’s show.
Given the circumstances, there was probably very little that the fine folks at the Lounge could have done to achieve a different outcome. Consider the elements that were stacked against success: Monday night, more snow, and a bill of relatively unknown local singer-songwriter acts in a traditionally rock-oriented club. The result was that there were more people at the bar, drinking and chatting than there were watching the acts. By the time headliner Blue Light concluded its rather early set, there were probably three people paying attention, including me, and excluding the soundman.
Despite the poor turnout, it was an evening of intriguing performances. Piano-based songwriter and actress Elizabeth Rose took the stage as a jazz trio, with a bassist and drummer accompanying her quirky, vaguely theatrical, subtly loungey tunes. Looking like a prettier version of the Dresden Dolls’ Amanda Palmer – down to the black-and-white striped knee-highs – Rose warmed the frigid room with her rich voice and jazzy vibe. Frequently, singers with a background in the theater have a vocal quality that sounds a bit stiff and over trained, but this vocalist managed to keep her voice real, sincere and affecting. The highlight of the set came when saxophonist Jon Hegel joined the trio onstage, lending his velvety baritone to the trio’s already suave sound.
Strange Lights was unable to make it for last night’s show, so Elizabeth Rose was followed directly by Blue Light (not sure what the “light” theme was all about). In recent months, this trio has gained attention in Denver’s singer-songwriter community for its sincere songwriting, unique vocal styles and the groovy 70s California feel that permeates many of the group’s songs.
Last night, Jamie Mefford sang with his usual throatiness, giving even some of his simpler lyrics an air of sincerity and gravity. Mefford’s sense of humor about the sparsely attended gig was charming. When photographer Brian Carney placed a large, homemade light board with the band’s name on the stage, the frontman quipped, “We have the best light show in the Denver folk scene. You can put that in print.” Done.
Jess Mefford’s eerie-yet-arresting voice echoes an amalgam of influences while never sounding derivative. It will be positively dangerous once the captivating singer arrives at the voice that is truly hers. Until then, her spirited, guileless singing, stomping and smiling are more than enough to hold the audience’s attention – even when that audience is as small as it was last night.
Jack Leahy nearly stole the show with his haunting, lilting lap steel and electric guitar work. At several points during the band’s set, Leahy’s instruments almost became a third voice, complementing both of the Meffords’ voices with their plaintive, resonant strings.
For the few folks left at the end of the evening, Blue Light’s set was a warm snifter on a cold, snowy night. It will be a pleasure to watch as this group hones its lyrics (fewer clichés will give them even more power) and finds its unique voice in a scene crowded with talent. – Eryc Eyl
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: While I’ve long been a vociferous detractor of Fleetwood Mac, my objection is really to what the band represents (cocaine-fueled 70s rock self-indulgence and mediocrity), not to its music. Random Detail: A young imbiber who sat at the bar during Blue Light’s set admitted later that he didn’t know a band was playing and thought, “The radio was on.” By the Way: Don’t miss Blue Light at the Lion’s Lair on December 22, with returning prodigal sons Gann Matthews and Jonathan Byerley. Elizabeth Rose is playing at 1515 Market that very same night, so wait until you can catch her at the Meadowlark on the December 29.