Sunday, 4 December 2016

Lissie - O2 Institute Birmingham. Saturday 3rd December 2016

Each year my peripheral horizon is expanded to bring into focus a successful artist from outside an ever increasing core musical domain. In 2015 Norwegian band Katzenjammer took the honour and their lauded steps have been followed this year by American performer Lissie. This enhanced focus began at the start of the year with the release of her third full length album MY WILD WEST and was sealed when she returned to Birmingham to play a date on her solo acoustic tour. This spotlight exposure revealed what a talented and versatile artist Lissie is and how there is so much potential for her to achieve in the ensuing years.

However coming right back to the present, and for this first opportunity to catch Lissie live she was accompanied by classy guitarist Nick Tesoriero who brought a near full room to a rapturous applause with a stunning piece of mesmerising playing on the final song. By the time that Lissie had sealed her promise to end on an upbeat note with the track ‘In Sleep’, the committed and vociferous faithful had witnessed a blistering performance of singer-songwriter prowess complete with the trademark energy that has powered much of her recorded material to date.

Lissie was expressive in talking about the current transitional status of both her life and career, primarily focussed on uprooting a twelve year stint in California and heading home to a simpler life in the Midwest. The theme of this change runs like a streak through the new album which mixes the brashness of a pop/rock past with the sensibilities of a singer-songwriter destined for influential status. There is an unashamed bias towards the stripping down of Lissie’s music in these quarters, as evidenced on the very recent live album release of her Union Chapel experience and more pertinently during this current UK solo acoustic tour.

This evening’s show at the O2 Institute had the most fitting five song finale that went a long way to defining why finding her music has been delightful pursuit this year. While this segment did include sparkling covers of Joni Mitchell’s festive classic ‘River’ and the Bonnie Raitt standard ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, they implied that Lissie’s ongoing influence is in good hands and eventually reach a point where she can impart some guidance on the next generation of artists designed on spreading the best to popular appeal. This run of songs began with the poignant ‘Ojai’ from the new record and a track which pinpoints her move from the town in the title. Also within this scope of her time on stage, we heard the best of new and slightly older Lissie. ‘Don’t You Give Up on Me’, especially the acoustic version, has evolved into one of my favourite songs of 2106, while it is impossible not to be moved when hearing ‘Oh Mississippi’ for the first time of many listens.

This song appeared on Lissie’s first album CATCHING THE TIGER and throughout the show there was an equilibrium approach to compiling the set list with regards to this record, the latest one and 2013’s BACK TO FOREVER. Of course the room was packed with many long-time Lissie devotees, lapping up popular numbers such as ‘The Habit’, ‘Shameless’ and ‘They All Want You’. It was during the first of these where the night’s sole blip occurred with a broken string, but Nick, and a re-arranged set list, rescued the moment with little detrimental effect.

The evening was awarded greater significance with the coup of getting Teddy Thompson to open these shows with forty minutes of his own acclaimed acoustic songs. While possibly a low key set from Teddy, you quickly got into the groove of how his voice has graced so many good songs over the last decade and a half. It brought back memories of his 2007 country album UP FRONT & DOWN LOW and on a similar note Teddy closed his short spell back in the solo spotlight with a version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Ballad of the Absent Mare’ complete with an impressive lyrical balancing act.

While no doubt Teddy Thompson’s flame will continue to flicker brightly in several guises in the crowded world of the singer-songwriter, Lissie’s is destined to soar. We were given an insight to that further new material is likely to be on the agenda soon and a continued operation free from major label intervention signifies an independent spirit. While the charismatic appeal and enthusiastic song delivery that helped mould her commercial success is always likely to remain, a similar special trait of composing highly engaging and meaningful songs could be the key to an influential future.

Whichever route you are exposed to the music of Lissie, the rich results will leave that feeling of a key legacy in your midst. While it was a pleasure to get my inaugural Lissie live experience in this solo acoustic setting, there will likely to be many more variations in the future. On either front it is a mouth-watering and exciting prospect.

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