Show Review: Lisa Hannigan, John Smith at Slim’s, 10/2/2011

by Raffi Youssoufian on October 5, 2011

After looking up Lisa Hannigan’s past show archive, I have definitely missed her more times than I remember.  Twice I’ve seen Damien Rice while she hadn’t been on the tour with him.  (She was the better half of Damien Rice in my opinion).  Then I systematically missed her only U.S. solo tour, her Apple Store in-store and her opening for both Jason Mraz, and David Grey on separate occasions.  I only had to wait eight years right?  Well I think it paid off, because I not only got to see her live, I had the chance to interview her as well! (See related article =) )

First things first, we had to wait through John Smith.  No, no, I’m not referring to a generic singer/songwriter.  He’s a Brit actually named John Smith.  Coming out with a vest, a mustache and a raspy voice, he made quite an impression starting on a song A Capella with just a clap and a kick drum coming out of a pedal.  Dark, mysterious, and soulful, there was an old time outlaw air to him.  That was until he spoke.  His refined British accent and jokes dissipated that image quickly. But it wasn’t just that, the rest of the set, aside from the lyrics, which were quite depressing, was not as dark.  His voice reminded me a bit of Ray Lamontagne and Ben Ottewell of Gomez, which will come in useful as you’ll see later.  I think any fan of Ray’s would appreciate John Smith.  His in between song banter, which was pretty entertaining, almost overshadowed the music.  His best line was about his ten-hour flight from England.  “It was pretty long, by the 30th song, everyone was pretty tired…”

Lisa came out, cute as a button, suited up in a green polka dot blouse, a navy polka dot skirt and suede brown boots; I imagine there was a button or two in the ensemble somewhere.  Jumping right into “Home,” the lead track her album Passenger, which was just released over a week ago, it instantly sounded like an exact translation of the album.  The band set up was fairly large, with drums, bass, guitar keys, John Smith on guitar, and an all purpose musician on trumpet and just about anything he could get his hands on.  Like the songs themselves, textured and layered, Lisa seemed to change with the wind, switching instruments every song: guitar, to ukulele, to mandolin, to the wonderful and warm sounding harmonium.

The new album was produced by Joe Henry, and in a way, the new songs do have a little southern edge to them.  As a whole they did a wonderful job of recreating the sound of the record on stage.  Even with the absence of live strings, which are prevalent on the album, it was one of the best straight translations I’ve heard in a long time.  The band itself worked with her in recording the album, so I think they were so entirely familiar with the music that it would almost be difficult to have it sound differently from the album so fresh out of the box.

Lisa’s voice is simply stunning live.  It’s almost warmer live than it is on record, which is a little unusual.  Hidden behind Damien Rice for all those years, she never got to bring out her personality into the music, and probably on stage.   But now you get a greater sense of her quirky and lovable personality.  She would talk a little, sometimes making jokes.  With a pretty good sense of humor, she dedicated “I Don’t Know,” a song from her first album Sea Sew to Stephen Colbert, as she performed it on a guest appearance on the Colbert Report in 2009.  During the song she would make a few smirks and smile during the lyrics, like “I don’t know what you smoke,” as if she was singing directly to Stephen, adding to the crowd’s laughter.

Lisa played just about the entire new record, highlighted by “A Sail,” “O Sleep” with John Smith filling in Ray Lamontagne’s vocals, and “Knots” where we got just  about the most rocking out we could get at a Lisa Hannigan show.  The looked to be having a great time, and it came through in the crispness in each note of the music.

My favorite song of the night by far was “Lille.”  Non coincidentally as the oldest of the songs, this was probably the least like the album version of any song that night.  With each instrument, harmonium, xylophone, keys, etc, coming in with each passing verse.  Just as it ends the first album, “Lille” ended the set before the encore.

I read an article where Lisa was asked about her favorite concert she had been to, and her answer was a Radiohead show.  The last song of the night, in a very appropriate way is a song on the new album that almost has a Radiohead quality sarcasm to it in its lyrics.  It’s call “Safe Travels (Don’t Die)” and it’s almost an idiots guide to staying alive.  Drawing huge laughs from the crowd, with its tongue in cheek lyrics, it still has a quaint genuineness to it that I think gets lost.  But I could definitely have pictured some of the lyrics being splattered into a some Radiohead album artwork.

It was a great show overall, but I almost felt there was just a little something missing that I couldn’t quite place my finger on.  Maybe it was that it sounded to close to the album, maybe it was because it was just a really relaxed show.  But I almost felt we needed a little more Lisa Hannigan in the set.  She seems to be just a wonderful, genuine, and humble person.  She’s an extremely talented artist and musician, but maybe there’s just a little too much humility while on stage.  The show didn’t necessarily grab you, but almost politely said hello, and asked you to have coffee.  I could be nitpicking, but hopefully as time goes on, while she gets even more comfortable with being in the limelight, her stage presence will grow, and more people will take notice.  But it wouldn’t hurt to bring at amazing sincerity with her.

Photos by Wynene Wilson. Check out her Flikr Page!

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