You don’t normally expect to the see the star of the show casually making her way through the packed out crowd from the general direction of the main bar to the Green Room 20 minutes before she’s due on stage, but then Lissie isn’t normal.
At the back end of 2015 she pitched up here at Academy 2 an hour after she should have started her show, having endured a rail journey from Edinburgh through the biblical floods of Storm Desmond, over the course of 11 hours, which involved two trains, the first of which drowned and the latter of which had no working toilet. I remain to this day full of admiration for someone who can go through a journey from Hell like that unfazed and then pick up her guitar and habitual bottle of red wine and get on with it as if she’d just stepped out of a chauffeur-driven limousine from a luxury hotel around the corner. Then she proceeded to play the full set, curfew or not, to the accompaniment of the frequent raising of her wine glass and a shout of “cheers!” as if she was a British stand-up comedian with a pint of bitter like The Pub Landlord.
On that night it was just her and an acoustic guitar; this time she had a full backing band of guitar, bass, keys and drums, mainly unheard-of musicians from Minneapolis she’d chanced upon since her return from California to her yearned-for “40 acres in the sun” in the Midwest. And boy can they play, especially the guitarist, one of two females fronting the stage alongside her. And while she claimed on a couple of occasions to be exhausted after rising early for a live TV programme she romped through the show, inspired by the crowd’s buzz she claimed, to offer up a monster 19-song set.
The first thing you notice when you see and hear Lissie live is that her tones are slightly more nasal than on record. The second is that she’s starting to struggle to reach the highest notes, on occasion settling for something a full octave lower. In fact, there was a running joke almost the length of the show as a voice in the audience consistently pleaded/demanded that she play ‘Crazy Girl’ from her latest album, ‘Castles’. It turns out the voice belonged to someone called Freya, who had collapsed in front of Lissie at a previous show. They hadn’t rehearsed the song and Lissie was reticent to play it because there are falsetto passages she wasn’t sure she could achieve.
The upshot was that a quid-pro-quo was agreed: we might play ‘Crazy Girl’ later if you (Freya) contribute your voice to the falsetto part. It turned up as the second encore song, Lissie hit all the notes and Freya’s brief contribution was sensational. Had there been four red chairs they would have been spinning like a gyroscope. Of such incidents are show memories engrained.
The Lissie voice is also distinctively downright sexy, and that aspect of her live performance should never be underestimated. Stevie Nicks with a sore throat. She can appear vulnerable, for example when she talks candidly to the audience about feeling sometimes that she can’t go on, as if she’s going crazy, but then she gets up on stage and it all seems totally worthwhile. She can also appear to be firmly in control when she’s at full throttle, an Alpha Female who goes out hunter-gathering while he changes the nappies. An enigma.
The set was made up of plenty of songs from ‘Castles’ but while she’s not shy about plugging the merch she rarely over-eggs a new album and so there was a nice balance to it. After opening with a rather restrained ‘Blood and Muscle’ from ‘Castles’ (an album that is supposed to be more “poppy” than the previous three though I don’t hear that) highlights included ‘Oh Mississippi ‘– dedicated to her home town of Rock Island in the Quad Cities of Illinois, a version of ‘Hero’ that could have been mimed straight off the record (indeed, her capacity to reproduce album songs live is matchless), and ‘Shameless’, her most explicit song. The irony of performing it live in the city where the TV drama was made was probably lost on her but if they ever bring it back, this dirty little ditty should play it in and out.
The song of the night though was ‘Don’t You give up on Me’, on which the short guitar break on the album gave way to an extended and more technical one from her guitarist which thoroughly deserved the appreciative applause she got. Lissie’s fans aren’t likely to give up on her anytime soon.
Lissie: Best Days (latest single):
Not far behind it was the very early ‘In Sleep’, one of the first songs I can remember hearing her perform and which played out the set, allowing her to slope off to the tour bus, her wine bottle empty and forlorn, to get some much-needed kip.
She said she’ll be back soon and you sense she genuinely means it. She’s a regular visitor anyway and is highly appreciative of the fact that she got her first top 10 album here rather than in the U.S. (If my memory serves me right it was Simon Mayo who was the first mainstream DJ to champion her).
The Crazy Girl will doubtless be waiting for her.
Photo credit courtesy of Lissie Facebook page