Augustana at Varsity Theater, 1/14/13

Augustana at Varsity Theater, 1/14/13
Photo by Youa Vang

Augustana with Lauren Shera
Monday, January 14, 2013
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis

Augustana, a band that certainly has had its ups and downs. The band announced in 2011 that they were breaking up, but soon after rescinded and said they would continue to make music, most of that mainly from lead singer, Dan Layus. Before you roll your eyes at the group that made its name from hits about love on contemporary adult radio, revisit their discography. More importantly, spend an evening with Dan and his one band member, David Lamoureux, and you will most likely change your mind.

Armed with just an acoustic guitar and his bandmate on piano, Dan knows how to command the audience with his heartbreaking voice. Most of the band's original songs were intended for a full band setup, but take on a softly poetic and sad tinge when played acoustic. Opening with "Mayfield," a song questioning the future of a relationship, he quickly moved into the single off Can't Love, Can't Hurt, "I Still Ain't Over You."

When playing an acoustic set, it's easier to take liberties with the songs and change up the chord progressions and constructions of the pieces, which can either be a welcome change or annoying. If Layus wasn't such a talented musician, it would certainly would have been the latter. The night was a mix from the band's three albums with some newly written songs thrown in. Currently without a label -- the band was dropped from Epic after disappointing sales from their self-titled third album Augustana -- Layus proves that even if a song was not that spectacular on a record, he can still make it work live such as "Just Stay Here Tonight" off Augustana.

At certain angles, Layus looks like a young Jakob Dylan, at others, a young Chris Cornell, but he is no cookie-cutter writer with his lyrics. While most of his songs are about redemption or unrequited love, you would expect his songs to be awkward and clunky, but they are not so at all. Each song is elegant in its own right, especially with their hits "Sweet and Low," which had Layus picking up his harmonica, and "Boston," a song penned when Dan was just in his teens. Approaching the keyboards, Dan performed one of the most underrated songs from the band, a poignant version of "Fire."

Augustana at Varsity Theater, 1/14/13
Augustana at Varsity Theater, 1/14/13
Photos by Youa Vang

With a humble bow and smile, Dan nods to David to pick up the accordion to accompany him on "Love is in the Air," a piece that drew cheers from the crowd and David singing along in an answer and call style on the refrain. Layus changed up lyrics of the familiar "Meet You There" by talking about his six-year-old daughter saying to her that she probably only knows his voice through a microphone. Right after "Borrowed Time," Dan gave a confused laugh to an audience member's request of "Boston" and the inevitable "Freebird." Instead, he introduced a new song with the most words that he spoke that night, saying, "Good evening. You all doing alright? It's been an absolute pleasure. Thanks for showing up. You may be all used to this cold, but for a California boy, I don't know what to say, it's fucking cold. That's all I gotta say. I hope it's okay for me to do new stuff." His new song spoke about youth being wasted on the young, a subject that has not been as aptly put since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
"Sunday Best" is a song that is never performed by the band, but since he often gets so many requests for it, Dan yielded to the appeals and played the rare piece. It's also rare for a headlining band to not do an encore -- it's almost expected -- so no one truly believed Layus when he said "Alive" would be the last song. Before the last piece, Dan told the audience, "Thank you for all so much for being here tonight. My life is good. I've been sober for a couple of years now, hence the ability to stand up here for twenty plus songs. (The band infamously had to reschedule a KS95 show a few years ago because Dan fell off the stage.) Tonight was wonderful. It's me, it's David, and it's you, and that's it." The song, written about his wife and three children, showcases Dan's talent for lyrics and ability to craft a melody, again about redemption and love and questioning everything that comes with life. Without being preachy, he shares, "This is my battle, This is not a devil, and this is not a child of God, This is not a message, and this is not a gunshot, I'm just loving you, babe, with everything I've got." As a goodnight to the crowd, Dan declared, "This is David. I am Daniel. You are Dinkytown."

Augustana at Varsity Theater, 1/14/13
Photo by Youa Vang

Critic's bias: Despite not liking their third album as much, I have seen Augustana a few times, but this was by far my favorite performance. Dan Layus has really polished up his live show.

The crowd: Young twenty-somethings.

Overheard in the crowd: "Oh, my god. We're so close to him; I can see that he drives an Audi." (from his car keys on his carabiner)

Random notebook dump: The opener, Lauren Shera, said the Varsity was so magical, she expected a unicorn to come galloping out.

Random notebook dump two: Augustana had no merch for sale. I wonder how much money they are missing out on by having this approach.


I Still Ain't Over You
Just Stay Here Tonight
New Song
Stars and Boulevards
Sweet and Low
Need a Little Sunshine
Steal Your Heart
Love in the Air
On the Other Side
Meet You There
Twenty Years
Borrowed Time
New Song
Sunday Best
New Song
Shot in the Dark
Alive (New Song)

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