Dylan LeBlanc (pictured below; the 21 year-old Shreveport, Louisiana singer/songwriter who was just hand-picked to open for a number of Lucinda Williams dates next month) closed out his set with an atmospheric cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and then, following the dramatic strains of the “Twin Peaks” theme music, Lissie took the stage at The Orange Peel.
In fact, following the musical prelude and a wash of blue and magenta lights, Lissie seemed almost too offhand in jeans and t-shirt, her two-member band sporting denim and flannel. But with the first notes (a cover of Hank Williams’ “Wedding Bells”) she captivated, her voice huge and dusky. But the second song, “Worried” from her full-length, Echo Mountain-recorded Catching A Tiger, she hit her stride.
Lissie’s songs are strong and catchy (she had plenty of fans in the audience, many of the male, singing every word right along with her) but her greatest talent is as a vocalist. She’s able to convey such emotion, drawing her voice from deep within her being and flinging it toward the ceiling in great whoops and howls, leading to a lot of non-lyric interludes where she whoa-oh-ohs with the conviction and skill of which “American Idol” contestants dream.
If Tiger‘s achilles heel is a stylistic lack of focus, Lissie’s touring band (Eric Sullivan on lead guitar and Lewis Keller on bass and drums, with whom she’ll be recording her next album) bring a consistency to her sound. Both guys lend background vocals — mostly non-lyrical whoa-oh-ohs — which add another layer of sound and serve as a jumping off place for Lissie’s own formidable vocals. Their tight, practiced playing also led necessary ballast to Lissie’s singing. She has a wildness akin to possession found in the likes of Jim Morrison, Angus Young, Stevie Nicks and Robert Plant. Which is not to say that she sounds like any of these, but on stage she seems to completely give herself over the moment and drawing from a deep well of emotion in order to fully express the song.
On both “Here Before” and “When I’m Alone” she appeared genuinely affected by the very words she as singing, which means something since she’s been touring these songs for a number of months already and has been playing them, refining them and thinking about them for years. To still connect with a piece of music rather than phoning in the performance means something. “Alone,” with its dark urgency and thick thump as an especially raw performance.
During her easy banter with the audience, Lissie talked about her many previous visits to Asheville, both the record at Echo Mountain and to spend time with her friends from Scrappy Hamilton/Truth And Salvage Co. She said that her last Asheville show had been at Stella Blue on New Year’s Eve of 2006 when she had opened for Scarppy Hamilton (whose members went on to form Truth And Salvage Co.). She’s come along way in the past half-decade; on Friday she and her band will appear on Lat Night With Jimmy Fallon.
On “Bully” and “Record Collector” she showed her pop chops but also further upped the intensity. Lissie played rhythm guitar on stage, but she often punctuated points in the music with her strumming hand thereby relegating her guitar playing to something peripheral. While Sullivan aptly handled guitar duties (and showed off with a couple searing solos later in the evening), it would be nice to Lissie really play and perhaps take a solo or two herself. That said, it’s worth reiterating that her voice is the undeniable centerpiece of her show. On “Bully” (from which the line “Catching a Tiger” was taken for the album’s title — she did soemthing similar for her EP, Why You Runnin’, taking that title from the line, “Why you runnin’ my life” from the song “Little Lovin’”) she came in after a drum break with nothing short of a howl, her tremendous vocal power and range truly warranting comparison to a young Robert Plant.
“Cuckoo” was also lighter pop fare, but it showcased Keller’s talent: He was playing kick drum with one foot, cymbal with the other, holding down the bassline and singing the syncopated, falsetto backup part, “Cu-cu-koo!” That song was followed by a story about the making of the video for “Everywhere I go” with an African elephant called Marla and then, bathed in pink light, Lissie sang that track, which is her angel song. (Nearly every major recording artist has one. Seriously. Try to think of a big-name act from the past 30 years who hasn’t called on angels. So to speak.)
“Little Lovin’” rounded out the show with finale-worthy crashing waves of non-lyric vocals, unrelenting kick drum and plenty of hair tossing — a completely satisfying end to a stellar show, and then there was the finale. Lissie and her band quickly returned to the stage with two more songs, beginning with the slow “Oh Mississippi,” a tribute to her hometown in Illinois. Then, in friendly banter, she launched into a story about how she lives with Band of Horses’ Bill Reynolds because she thought someone in the audience was shouting “Bill!” (In fact, the person was shouting “Happy Groundhog Day” — which it was — and “Punxsutawney Phil!” To illustrate the point, he was wearing a cap complete with a plush groundhog mascot.)
But no worries. Lissie ended her show was a blistering cover of Kid Cudi‘s “Pursuit of Happiness,” which is not particularly happy, but it is anthemic and fist-pumping and Lissie commented that she liked the rebellious feel of it. So did the audience; it was a show that could have lasted much longer without anyone complaining.