Lissie at the Bluebird Theater, 1/17/11

With Dylan LeBlanc
01.17.11 | Bluebird Theater
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Lissie walked on stage to the Twin Peaks theme song. That should come as no surprise, as she's a well-publicized fan of the show. The lesson here and throughout her set at the Bluebird: Lissie is not big on subtlety.

She proceeded to apologize to fans who were supposed to do a meet-and-greet. There was a failure of communication somewhere, and she was eating pho on Colfax at the designated time. She assured the people who had not met or greeted her that they weren't missing anything -- what they were seeing on stage was what they would have gotten from it. Some dude yelled out a proposition and Lissie, who we know from her lyrics is no stranger to advances, ignored him.

The show hit bottom when she followed "I feel kind of boring sometimes because I tell the same stories" with a rambling adage about her twenties and the Midwest and throwing caution to the wind and learning from mistakes and how you can also do those things in Los Angeles. All this she explained to help us contextualize the song "Cuckoo," which could not be less in need of contextualization. Don't tell this crowd there was a low point, though: The Bluebird was packed with visibly fuzzy-hearted believers, and they laughed like she was an old friend.

Then Lissie and her band started playing "Cuckoo," and we went from inexplicable to undeniable somehow. "Cuckoo" sticks out on the record as a total cheeseball pop song, a rebellion only if rebellions can involve car trips to the mall. Yet it loses the veneer live. The shiny production value is gone, of course, but it's more about seeing her. She is so totally unadorned, so earnest in her performance, so patently not choreographed that you know this isn't a song born of market research and money. When she sings "They're telling our story on the radio," she really felt that way once, and it felt right.

What became clear over the course of her set was that what feels right is a central, guiding principle of her music. The advantage there is she talks to the crowd like they're friends in her living room, and the songs are all glowing with catharsis. But it's her catharsis, not necessarily ours. And while she is willing to tell her stories, she is not willing to risk embarrassment in her lyrics.

Which falls in a sort of deadly middle ground between the universal-by-design of the stories on the radio and the unique truth of the most daring songwriters. Lissie, who is on a major label in the U.K. and an indie here, has happily been all things to all people. You can play her songs in a crowded car with the windows down, and you can play them alone in your bedroom. But which is it?

If that sounds like vague criticism, consider the practical consequence. Her EP, Why You Runnin', is a bare construction, a vessel for the clarion call that is her voice. The follow-up full length, Catching a Tiger, is an ornate studio piece, replete with horns and piano tracks and guitars upon guitars.

Now she has reinvented herself as a band with guitarist Eric Sullivan and simultaneous drummer and bassist Lewis Keller. If what we heard last night was indicative, the next album will sound nothing like either of her previous releases. Think rawking guitar solos and hand-clap a cappella breakdowns and general indelicacy. She may find it hard to get fans to continue to identify with her changing whims.

Or maybe she won't. This was a reverential crowd, all sing-alongs and smiles. Every dead space was filled with a shouted devotion; Lissie was like a lizard on a sunny rock.

Opener Dylan LeBlanc is probably the sort of guy who is breathtaking in a church. But his gentle-breeze voice and statuesque demeanor didn't exactly slay the Bluebird. He asked for silence, saying he was getting distracted, and didn't get that. Serves him right for calling this a warm-up show for the rest of the tour. He didn't mean it maliciously, but that is the wrong thing to say to any crowd.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I love Catching a Tiger. It sounds like freedom to me. But after last night's show, I feel like a sucker. Random Detail: Lissie, we learned, does not like margaritas because they are too sweet. She takes her tequila straight up -- a little before the show, a little right at the end, and, she told us, a little more to follow across the street at Mezcal. By The Way: Totally random assortment of people, from punks to the elderly to Gap-clad twenty-somethings at this show. Which pretty much fits.


Lissie 01.17.11 | Bluebird Theater

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