Lissie at Varsity Theater, 5/22/2013
Photo by Youa Vang
Lissie with Vance Joy
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
When an artist says at the beginning of their show, "We're gonna play a lot of new stuff tonight," there's often a collective groan from the room, but when Lissie told that to the sold-out room at the Varsity, everyone hooted and cheered. The Rock Island native is beautiful but in an unassuming kind of way -- she's the ultimate girl next door. Behind that exterior beats the heart of a rock star; when she straps on her guitar, she comes alive and moves as if this was what she was born to do.
With a big smile on her face, perhaps because this is the second time she has sold out the Varsity in less than a year, Lissie and her band walked onstage. The singer shared that she felt very special grateful for all of the love in the room. She also joked about her in-ear monitors, which were merely earbuds, saying, "I have these weird things in my ears, and I know they're going to fall out halfway through the set." A odd thing to note, but understandable as soon as you see Lissie start moving and dancing as she gets lost in the music and lost behind her loose flowing hair.
Taking a risk and opening with a new piece, Lissie takes her soulful, bluesy songs, her sound that she made famous, and adds some more attitude on that aesthetic. While most artists tour behind a new album, Lissie's new record isn't set to drop until September, so maybe she was itching to get back on the road.
Photo by Youa Vang
The performer excels at penning songs about unrequited love, songs about heartbreak and express yearning, so when the audience heard the opening riffs to her classic "When I'm Alone," they let out an excited cheer. The song's lyrics talk of her need to be near her love, an almost obsessive need that most people have felt but just never voiced for fear of sounding crazy, and while obsessive, it also shows her vulnerable side encased inside a rock song.
After throwing the audience a bone of an old piece, she flew through a few new ones. "Sleepwalking" draws influences from Springsteen and even had Lissie doing a few Courteney Cox moves during the song, but her new single "Shameless" was what the crowd was waiting for. With a nod to her guitarist, the band ripped into "Shameless," raw and and haunting yet angry at the same time. While Lissie is leaning more towards being a rock artist these days, she still plays homage to her love for country music with "Little Lovin," an older piece that invited the audience to stomp their feet and clap in joy. If stuck in the back of the room, what could have been missed was the talent of her bassist who played a small set of drums and his bass at the same time especially for this song.
As noted, Lissie is very much the girl next door, but she also knows how to show off her masculine side. Grabbing her water bottle, she politely admits, "I'm about to spit into this bottle right now. [laughing and grabbing her towel] Last night I had two towels, and I was spitting in one and wiping my face with the other, and I forgot which was which."
She launched into her new single "Further Away Romance Police," an odd name for a song, but no matter, she knows how to sell it. Lissie invited the audience to singalong for "I Don't Want to go to Work" on the chorus, before leading into the song that was essentially a big "fuck you" to the boss, most especially with the line "I won't go to work, you won't pay what I'm worth."
Lissie's last album Catching a Tiger contains so many great pieces, but it wasn't until late into the show that she pulled out a favorite "In Sleep." While not all of her songs show off her vocals, "In Sleep" allows room for that to come out, showing a lot of strength in her range. The piece included an extended bridge that had the band letting loose and jamming, lost in the moment. The singer has voiced a desire to collaborate with Kid Cudi, and her video of "Pursuit of Happiness" has almost 2.5 million views, and while it wasn't written by her, the lyrics "I'm on the pursuit of happiness and I know everything that shine ain't always gonna be gold, I'll be fine once I get it, yeah, I'll be good" epitomize what she strives for. Perhaps that's why she loves that song so much.
The house lights came on, and while hoping for another song, there was no guarantee, but Lissie obliged and came back onstage. She wrote "Oh Mississippi" about Rock Island, but she drew parallels to Minneapolis since we are also on the river. The haunting hymn-like piece is originally played on the piano, but transferred to full band, it becomes another beast and expresses her ache to be home. With a big road ahead of her, this song brings her back to her Illinois home each night.
Critic's bias: Lissie can be written off as a radio-friendly artist, and I see the appeal in radio because she's approachable yet has a rock-star edge, but I think she has longevity way beyond what radio can do for her.
The crowd: A lot of women, most around the same age as Lissie, and some men thrown into the mix.
Overheard in the crowd: "She just oozes cool."
Random notebook dump: In movements onstage, Zoo Animal's Holly Hansen could be mistaken for Lissie.
Random notebook dump 2: If you haven't seen it, check out Lissie's cover of "Pursuit of Happiness." It is amazing.
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