Lucius is a five-piece rock band from Brooklyn, that, since the release of its first LP last October, has garnered an unusual amount of excellent press — from Rolling Stone and NPR to Pitchfork and Vogue — for such a young band. Lucius’ music and self-presentations most often highlight the two female lead singer-songwriters, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who adorn themselves in stylish, identical attire, hairstyles and make-up — a visually striking image made even more so because the two women have incongruent heights and body types. They look so alike, and so not alike, that it’s hard to tell what they look like.
On Saturday night, Lucius played to a sold-out crowd at The Mothlight in West Asheville, and what happened seemed to surprise everyone there. Lucius’s pop/rock stylings, dripped in ’60s girl-group harmonies, folk sensibilities and mountains of percussion, most likely didn’t shock anybody. The band’s sound channels much of the pop music of the last 50 years, claiming ownership over it all while precisely choosing the contours it needs to create new worlds of melodic music. As on new release, Wildewoman, stuttering polyrhythms and low-key guitars lay the foundation for Wolfe and Laessig’s powerful and ethereal melodies. The ladies often sing in perfect unison, yet are able to split into harmonies at the drop of a bridge or chorus. The three guys in the band also sing a lot, making Lucius a harmonically rich and emotionally powerful performance indeed.
The concert started with an as-yet unreleased song. It was a luscious, evocative opening, almost a folk ballad to make sure the crowd could hear right off the bat that these women can sing. But quickly, Lucius jumped into one the biggest tracks on the record, “Don’t Just Sit There,” which featured one of the only guitar solos of the night. With the second song, four-fifths of the band had percussion on hand, and the primary drums split the stage, one set being played by a drummer, the other set played by a musician who doubled as the second guitarist. There is no bass per se, although guitarist Peter Lalish sometimes used a pedal to lower his guitar down an octave. Their third song, “Genevieve” (which, so far, has only been released as a 45), featured all five members constructing layers of syncopation, each banging on a different drum — a floor tom, a cow bell, a snare, or a tambourine — before Lalish laid down a reggae-inspired groove.
By this point — roughly 10 minutes into the concert — the crowd had become delirious. Lucius hardly seemed to know what to do. “It’s only our third song!” Wolfe yelled out. It was clear that Lucius was unprepared for the love Asheville showed them. Ecstatic members of the crowd called out band members’ names between most every song; one of the drummers asked if we could all start following them on tour.
In some ways, a Lucius fan may have predicted the emotional surges that seemed to connect band and audience. Wolfe and Laessig’s are melody-driven, deceivingly simple, and built to move. The lead singers, set up in the middle of the stage, face-to-face, both play synthesizers and percussion as they weave their melodies throughout the textured but sparse band arrangements. The songs and approach recall the Supremes, Prince, Kate Bush, and TV on the Radio.
The joy and excitement on display at the Mothlight was ever-cresting, right up until the end, when the band set up a single microphone in the middle of the crowded floor and performed two songs. The last words all the band members sang into the mic were, “Goodbye.”