Notable Newcomer Lissie Wows Crowd in L.A.

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Lissie at the Music Box / Photo by Andrew Herrold
Chris Martins WRITTEN BY
Chris Martins

Saturday night in Los Angeles, rising indie folk-pop singer Lissie seemed surprised that so many people had come out to see her play. "For the longest time I knew every single person who came to my show. I could count them on my hands," the L.A.-based, Illinois native said toward the start of her band's set. "Now there are so many new faces."

Those faces may have belonged to strangers from Lissie's point of view, but she was hardly unfamiliar to them. The packed-in crowd swayed, stomped and sang along throughout the performance, topping the evening off with a fist-pumping chant of "LIS-SIE! LIS-SIE!" that made the singer-songwriter blush as she stepped back onstage for an encore.

The night began with a cover of Hank Williams' "Wedding Bells," a clever country classic that in Lissie's hands becomes a gossamer, reverb-soaked celebration of sadness. It also rang as a bit ironic since the song's closing line, "Wedding bells will never ring for me," was countered by a desperate-sounding, "I love you, Lissie!" shouted from the front of the audience.

If the guy seemed like a fanatic, he was only channeling what the rest of the room was thinking. The way the sandy blonde stunner would count her players off in a whisper, the way she'd quietly coax each song out of its corner then build to a roar, the way she'd go from a coy smile to a confident sneer and back again ... one couldn't help but be a little in love for an hour at least.

Her band was also able to show its mettle. First on the sultry "Worried About," which ditched the electronic flourishes of the album version (from last year's Fat Possum full-length debut, Catching a Tiger) in favor of soaring backup vocals from guitarist Eric Sullivan and bassist Louis Keller, plus plenty of kick drum thud from Stuart Wilkinson.

Then, on the far more atmospheric "Here Before" (from 2009's Why You Runnin' EP), the four created a captivating scene, with Lissie's voice gone angelic over a collection of isolated guitar tones and dark chords. The ghosts were chased out, however, when show-opening sister duo the Pierces joined Lissie's crew to belt out a triumphant take on her single "When I'm Alone."

There wasn't a flat song in the set. Sullivan's guitar solo on "Bully" sounded downright grungy and huge. "Cuckoo," a song about "skipping school and smoking cigarettes," displayed Lissie's knack for writing and performing radio-ready Western gems. The hushed beauty of "Everywhere I Go" had people at the bar shushing their neighbors. And when the Pierces returned to help out on the upbeat number "Little Lovin'," it felt like a church revival had come to Hollywood.

All that said, some of the biggest cheers came with Lissie's reinvention of Kid Cudi's paranoiac stoner anthem "Pursuit of Happiness," which she prefaced by taking a gulp of tequila from a plastic cup. The crowd ate it up wholly, but Lissie wasn't quite satisfied.

As the rest of the band left the stage, Lissie launched into a solo rendition of unreleased rambler "Watch Over Me," the first song she wrote after moving to L.A. in 2004, while working at an Urban Outfitters. For a precious two minutes, the outsize audience was transported to one of the more intimate shows that Lissie remembers. Then, the lights went up, and the spell was broken.

SET LIST:
"Wedding Bells" (Hank Williams cover)
"Worried About"
"Here Before"
"When I'm Alone"
"Bully"
"Record Collector"
"Loosen the Knot"
"Cuckoo"
"Everywhere I Go"
"In Sleep"
"Little Lovin'"

"Oh Mississippi"
"Pursuit of Happiness" (Kid Cudi cover)
"Watch Over Me"

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