Lissie pursues (invokes) happiness at Bluebird Theater

Is Lissie hip in the way Jenny Lewis or Zooey Deschanel are?  Or is she more like KT Tunstall and Sheryl Crow, an adult alternative type of cool?  Or would she fit in better with the Righteous Babe crew?  I asked myself that question as I scanned the crowd at the Bluebird last night and I came to the conclusion that she would be right at home with any of those artists, although she’d probably prefer a dive bar with bottle of tequila, a pack of smokes and good friends.  Hipsters, older folk (probably the family members and friends she said were in attendance), hippies…from 20-somethings to 40-somethings, Lissie produced one of the most diverse crowds I have seen at a Denver show in a long time.

On paper Lissie is just another singer-songwriter who worked hard, paid her dues, met the right people at the right time, landed a record deal and recorded an indie folk album that had some hits.  But in real life she is so much more that that.  My wife and I first discovered her talent when she opened for Ray LaMontagne at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in 2009.  It was just her and her guitar and a voice big enough to fill the room and the city it stood in.  Immediately blown away by that voice coming out of this skinny girl who grew up on the Mississippi, we ended up buying the Why You Runnin’ EP from her (she was working her own merch booth) during intermission.

We were lucky enough to catch a few sets at SXSW 2010 as well, this time with her band.  The first set was in the Hear Ya tent and they were tasked with trying to play louder than the metalcore band playing at Beauty Bar behind them.  Something Lissie did with vigor and proved something I once read true, ‘it’s like she has a choir of black women inside her just waiting to come out’.  The next set was inside at Stubb’s during the Scissor Sisters show, where she covered Metallica with none other that Bill ‘fucking’ Murray in attendance.  SXSW solidified me as a fan and my wife an something slightly less than obsessed.

So, you can imagine our disappointment when Lissie had to cancel her show in October and our excitement when it was rescheduled for January.

We had dinner at Tommys Thai with a friend and walked over to the Bluebird just after 8pm.  Lissie was out front, wearing bell-bottom jeans and NorthFace jacket, smoking a cigarette and talking with family (friends?fans?)  She is from Rock Island, IL (as she mentioned quite a few times through the show), but she went to college in Ft. Collins and knows her way around Denver.  She looked right at home on Colfax (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way).

We went inside right away and caught the opening set from Dylan LeBlanc.  I was looking forward to seeing this guy.  His debut album, Paupers Field , is pretty good in a countryRyan Adams sorta way, but onstage the 21 year old from Louisiana did not look comfortable, had no personality and his voice did not carry.  I hate to say this, because I know he was trying, but it was one of the most boring sets I’ve ever seen.

Lissie took the stage at 9:15 to the backdrop of Falling (Twin Peaks Theme).  A dark, but interesting choice.  She started with chatter before the song and that became a practice that would continue through the night.  She was apologizing for missing a meet-and-greet that she didn’t know about because she was having Phở somewhere down the road.  After explaining that what we see on stage is what we would get in a meet-in-greet, she went into her cover of Hank WilliamsWedding Bells from her Why You Runnin’ EP.

Conversation-wise (and sometime performance-wise), Lissie reminds me more of a young Jewel than she does any of those other artists I mentioned.  When I living in San Diego in the mid-90s I used to see Jewel in coffeeshops, small bars, parks, etc and Lissie has the same stage presence as she did back then.  Some songs can be cheesy and tongue-in-cheek, but they are all real when you see them performed live.  Every show is a little like a VH1 Storytellers episode.  Explanations, anecdotes and stories prefacing every song, even when the lyrics of the song are 100% self-explanatory.  This isn’t a bad thing, it makes for a personal experience, but sometimes it can come back to haunt you, especially if you tell the same stories every night.  It can then seem forced and fake.  Lissie is still too new to have that problem in most crowds, but she did voice this same concern last night when talking about her rebellious childhood before Cuckoo.   Cuckoo is one of my least favorite songs on the album, but it was turned into something raw and real onstage with the help of her band…Louis (from Colorado) and Eric. In fact every song became something more with Louis (who performed the whole rhythm section) and Eric.  They gave these folk songs a real rock ‘n roll feel…complimenting instead of complicating (see In Sleep video below at about the 2:40 mark).

After Wedding Bells the set was comprised mostly of songs from her debut album, Catching the Tiger.  It lasted about an hour, coming to an end at 10:15 after her last (well not really, I just have to say that, my sorta last) song, Little Lovin’, which turned into a little jam session ‘why you runnin’, why you runnin’, why you runnin’ my life!’

The encore came quickly and started with Oh Mississippi, a song that really shows off her range and her roots.  She might have been ‘overseas so much lately’, but she’s still that little girl who grew up on the Mississippi River.  Then, in what seemed like an act of shedding those roots, she closed with a song that made my night.  Her cover of Kid Cudi‘s Pursuit of Happiness (my #5 of 2010) blew away the original!  She took the obligatory shot of tequila first, thanked Kid Cudi for writing the song and then took us on a drunk drivin’ roll through the Midwest side.  It was the perfect way to end the short, but amazing set.

After the show we went over to Mezcal where she announced she would be drinking and had a couple beers and some tacos that we didn’t need after our Thai dinner. We had a quick conversation with her about SXSW over a smoke and then we drove home with Pursuit of Happiness on the ipod.

Wedding Bells (Hank Williams cover)
Worried About
Here Before
When I’m Alone
Record Collector
Everywhere I Go
In Sleep
Little Lovin
Oh Mississippi
Pursuit of Happiness (Kid Cudi cover)