Last Night: Elizabeth & the Catapult and Greg Laswell at the Walnut Room

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Elizabeth & The Catapult and Greg Laswell
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Walnut Room
Better Than:
A show with similarly-minded music performed by a bunch of stiffs.

For various reasons I don't often find myself going to the Walnut Room for a show, but a little band from Brooklyn caught my ear one day on NPR. The music was perfectly executed, polished and not at all challenging but it was also charming and thoughtful. That band, Elizabeth & The Catapult, opened this show with its song "Apathy." Things started off fairly quiet with just singer Elizabeth Ziman and guitarist Pete Lalish. Apparently the band likes to start out quiet and then bring up the energy and volume as the show goes on and that's what it did. The rest of the band took the stage for the next song, the gorgeously melancholy "Rainiest Day of Summer."

Introducing "Momma's Boy," Ziman said that it was about the Oedipal complex and that she realized that a number of the band's songs were about various neuroses such as  hypochondria and schizophrenia. If this group writes music about mental distress, it does so with a sense of humor and musical eloquence. Within the set I heard elements of smooth jazz (in the classic sense), reggae, indie pop and Ziman's classical background. But it all came together seamlessly and flawlessly, especially on the playfully intense "Hit the Wall" and "Race You." Even though this band had never been to Denver and was on its first tour, it engaged the audience with good humor, wit and positive vibes. It's cover of "Everybody Knows" was sparse yet powerful and the set ended with an especially fun rendition of "Taller Children."

Admittedly, I knew little about Greg Laswell before this show. And when his band started off with "One I Love," I have to say I kind of chalked this outfit up to the kind of music you hear on popular television shows and "world class rock" stations. Which is entirely true in both cases. But that kind of offhand critical judgment wouldn't be fair to someone like Laswell or his band mates who performed songs that played with the thickness of sonic layers, interesting rhythms and intelligent, clever lyrics.

Laswell engaged the audience in dialogue of a sort throughout the set, suggesting that if this music thing doesn't work out -- though if there is justice in the universe it will if it hasn't already -- he could get work as a comedian. His story of how he met guitarist Brandon Walters was deeply profane and hilarious and the guy often had me laughing pretty hard as the set went on. But there was also a genuine sensitivity toward life's down moments that gave the songs a depth and poetry I sometimes miss with music like this. The jokes helped to emphasize that side of Laswell's songwriting, and when the band left stage after performing the beautifully sweeping "How the Day Sounds," it had earned a new fan.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: When I interviewed Elizabeth Ziman she was really a nice and gracious person.
Random Detail: Greg Laswell wore a Class of 1988 t-shirt of some sort.
By the Way: Greg said he met guitarist Brandon Walters in Denver.

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