Show review: Lucius at The Orange Peel

Photo courtesy of Lucius via Instagram

The night of the Lucius show at The Orange Peel, some people were giving away tickets. People outside the venue, people on Twitter, even people in the grocery store across the street were trying find someone willing to come to the show. But in an excited, fervent way, like the zeal of a new religious convert. “You should totally come to this show,” one fan gushed. “I saw them for free my first time and they are amazing!”

Lucius’s live show cherrypicks some of the best elements of American pop music. It starts with the founders and frontwomen, singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who dress exactly the same and sing facing each other on stage. Not only are their matching wardrobes and platinum-blonde bob wigs reminiscent of the 1960s and ’70s, their onstage personas channel the transporting, cathartic nature of Gimme Shelter’s Ike and Tina Turner performance, or the comforting-but-false retro stage dynamic of The Sunny and Cher Show.

The musicians are not just masters of aesthetics, though. Their musical blend of blues, rock and pop comes from a complicated network of instruments. I counted approximately 23 separate instruments on stage, with all band members individually playing multiple instruments, often at the same time. Wolfe and Laessig sing sophisticated harmonies and play synth leads while the rhythm section behind them provides backing vocals, lush instrumentation and arena-ready drum lines. Popular tracks like “Gone Insane” sound even more powerful live than on the record.

This is no wall of sound. Typically, touring bands need backing tracks to sound as full as their records. Lucius’s live show avoids this by arranging and channeling the instrumentation to an incredible degree. Wolfe and Laessig switched microphones three times, for example, including once for their amazing and strange cover of “Uncle John’s Band” from the recent compilation album, Day of the Dead.  For that track, they moved to a mounted condenser microphone, which is normally reserved for studio recording since it can be temperamental in a live setting. The warmer, more precise vocals justified the effort.

All of this adds up to a show that is conducted almost perfectly, which is both a blessing and a curse. Watching such obsessive execution of super-catchy music is a little like walking into a house featured in Architectural Digest. It’s severely on-brand with just a dash of imperfection, the rustic farm table and unique, vintage trinkets balancing out the minimalist and expensive furniture set. It’s amazing, for sure, but the anxiety of calculation below the surface is hard to ignore.

However, Wolfe and Laessig came into the crowd for “Pulling Teeth,” an ’80s new wave track. There are many things that can go wrong when performers wade into an audience, but Lucius does this often and it’s easy to see why. The two women are magnetic and immediately people swarm them. To be that close to such exertion and dedication is exhilarating. You realize all of Lucius’s curation adds up to this instant, collective and subliminal act essential to music and, perhaps, meaningful human connection.

Next time, you’ll bring a friend.

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