Monday, 24 March 2014

LISSIE | 17th March 2014 | Review by Dara Yazdani

Tammy Wynette famously sang: “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman”. She should know, she was one. She also worked in a music industry that, despite the intervening years of women’s liberation and the noises made about equality, would still prefer its females airbrushed, semi-naked and ideally on all fours. Fortunately there are still female songwriters who refuse to play the game.

One of those is California-based folk-rocker Lissie who, although yet to set the charts alight, has cultivated a devoted fan-base following a solid opening salvo of albums which have piqued the interest of such luminaries as Lenny Kravitz, Snow Patrol and Robbie Williams in the process. Whilst Lissie may not bow to the fickle winds of fashion, either visually or musically, she is going through something of a transition.

Debut album Catching A Tiger was heavy on the folky introspection whereas new album Back To Forever sees her heading in a more FM rock direction under the guidance of uber-producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee. It’s a welcome evolution. Lissie is known for her covers and her sedate take on Hank William’s Wedding Bells eases the crowd in gently to her set. It is an odd choice to kick off proceedings. Perhaps she is conscious that some die-hards have expressed displeasure at her distancing herself from her folk roots, much like they did with Dylan, These folkies can be a militant lot so its best not to upset them.

She lets loose a little more on old track Record Collector with its ska-lite chords chops and fully rocks out on the snarling Can’t Take It Back, a new track that shows how far her song-writing has come on. The “break-up” is fertile ground for musicians and her own heartbreak has underpinned many of the songs on Back To Forever. It provides some added vitriol to a number of tracks.

Song writing and sartorial qualities aside Lissie’s greatest asset is her voice. On the radio-friendly Sleepwalking she sounds like a dead ringer for Stevie Nicks in her smoky 70’s pomp. On the late night 80’s vibe of They All Want You her voice is as clear and powerful as a siren. This versatility is key and she tackles a few musical styles during the course of her set.

Live her songs benefit from a harder, paired down sound that strips away some of the album production. The Habit benefits from driving drums and insistent rhythm transforming it into a distant cousin to The Cardigan’s 'Erase and Rewind'. Her band is competent but opt to stay in the shadows on all but a few tracks. 

Everywhere I Go, an old song Lissie performed with current indie darling Ellie Goulding at The Great Escape in 2010, is a ballad that wouldn’t be out of place over the credits of Dawsons Creek. It’s much too mannered for me as is Oh Mississippi and ode to her home town of Rock Island, Illinois and her carefree childhood hanging out by the river. Its county vibe veers into Lucinda Williams territory and whilst it does include some nice lap steel it fails to set pulses racing lacking perhaps from some classic Everly Brothers style harmony.

The crowd warm up to the country hoe-down  of Little Lovin’ with fist-pumping gusto and a call and response finale that has Lissie riding a mock pony by the end. She may not be MTV fodder but her combination of tousled blonde hair, freckled face and boho-chic has sections of tonight’s sold out crowd a bit hot under the collar. Men of a certain age can’t seem to resist heckling declarations of love and marriage during any breaks in the music.


Mountaintop Removal is my stand out track from the new album although she hasn’t been playing it much on this tour. There is no ambiguity in the eco-friendly lyrics about the practice of dynamiting mountains for coal.

“Darling my dear
I tell you what is wrong
I went to the mountain
But the mountain top was gone”

On record it’s a monster but live it’s slightly paired down by curious atmospherics although the chorus is as colossal as ever. You could call it her 'Mercy Mercy Me'  if you were feeling generous or her 'Earth Song' if you were feeling harsh.

Shameless could be her personal anthem dealing as it does with the music industries penchant for style over substance. She has picked up a few tips from Mr Kravitz on the way as its loose funk groove complements her gripes about the vacuous nature of celebrity.

“So take a shot for free
And photoshop the bits of me that you don't want”

Lissie sounds best when she lets it all hang out and lets her voice soar. This issue is obviously personal.

The driving drums and proto punk funk sound of Further Away (Romance Police) sounds a lot peppier live than on the album and it gives guitarist Eric Sullivan a rare moment to shine with a guitar solo a chance to do his best Slash-on-a-mountain-top impersonation.

At the encore we get one of the most bizarre promos I have seen when Lissie selects a winner to a raffle for her own brand tequila. The winner is dragged up on stage and downs a shot with her in front of a bemused crowd. It’s all rather odd and incongruous and the sort of shameless promotion best left to Gene Simmons.

Just to ram home the point that she is Little Miss Versatile set closers Back To Forever and In Sleep could not be more divergent. The first is a tender, nostalgic look at her childhood. Lissie openly admits to weeping like at infant after recently opening one of her grandmother’s photo albums. On record the sentiment is lost amongst the twee arrangement but in the flesh her cracking voice gives the ballad an undeniable power.
Closer In Sleep is a southern fried rock out from debut album Catching A Tiger with Eric Sullivan again building up quite a head of steam.  Once he is let loose he builds to a noisy crescendo that surely upsets the folkers in the audience.

Safe to say Lissie is not one for compromises.  Its good to see her go her own way.

Review by Dara Yazdani

Photos by Mike Burnell (all use to be agreed in writing)

No comments:

Post a Comment