By Ashley Naftule. Photos by Maria Vassett.
Excellence can be exhausting.
Imagine how indifferent we’d become to The Olympics if they happened every year. Watching humans break world records every four years is thrilling; seeing it every year would make into something rote. Much in the way that a basketball game that was nothing but monster dunks would turn into a drag after all. You need to spread those hills and valleys out, or everything becomes a flatline after awhile.
Walking out of the Van Buren after Laura Pergolizzi finished her barnburner of a set, I was struck by how worn out I felt. Throughout her sold-out show, the huge crowd inside the Van Buren was in a constant state of motion: dancing, clapping, bobbing, and even pockets of get-a-room makeout sessions happening on the periphery. But being a part of that roiling energy wasn’t why I felt like a wrung-out towel at the end of the night. It was watching LP bend and stretch and catapult her voice to the heavens.
To say that LP is a singer is like saying Jimi Hendrix was a guitarist. Both statements are facts that fail to get across how otherworldly they are in those roles. Watching Pergolizzi sing is like watching an epic guitar solo play out for an hour and some change: It’s thrilling, captivating, mind-boggling, and just too much after a while.
I hadn’t seen LP live before. I knew of her growing renown in the underground: A for-hire songwriter for pop stars like Rihanna and Christina Aguilera who still manages to keep the lion’s share of the good stuff for herself on her solo albums. And her androgynous, confident image left an impression—Hair artfully tousled like she was a long-lost member of The Strokes, clad in leather jackets or natty suits. But I had no idea how devoted and enthusiastic her fanbase was until I saw the turnout for her Heart To Mouth tour.
When local openers 76th Street took to the stage at 8 p.m., the house was already packed. The guitar/keyboards duo in 76th Street put on a solid set. The most striking thing about them was their vocals: They both sang in tandem and had excellent chops. Some of their songs sounded like they were weaved out of different melodies, like each of them was singing an entirely different piece of music that just happened to mesh perfectly with what their partner in crime was doing.
Pre-recorded, vaguely Lorde-sounding beats accompanied most of their tunes. They would also do choreographed movements: Synchronized head-turns, dips, hand gestures. Nothing too elaborate, but it was clear they had a routine worked out for each number, and they executed them flawlessly. Almost too flawlessly: It was so tightly performed that there wasn’t much in the way of spontaneity. It was like watching an ornate music box play out its melodies. You sit back, watch the porcelain ballerina finish its rotation, and enjoy the pleasant chimes.
A pair of banners flanked the stage for LP’s set: twisting green tree branches in front of a violet backdrop. The stage was cast in a similar violet-covered light as her band took their places. They all wore black jackets, giving them a subtle retro look—like they had just finished playing a set at The Roadhouse in Twin Peaks. As they launched into “Dreamcatcher,” LP strutted onstage in a purple coat. And then she unleashed that voice on us.
Picture a mad scientist trying to splice together Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, Robert Plant, and Corin Tucker together into one composite voice, and you’ve got an idea of what LP sounds like live. She can dip into Bush’s airy whimsy and hit her theater-kid swoons; she’s got Nicks’ commanding yet seductive don’t-fuck-with-me attitude; she walks around with Robert Plant’s big dick energy and even bigger voice; and she can also hit that shrill, I’m-tearing-my-guts-apart emotional intensity that Tucker nails in her Sleater-Kinney songs. And she can whistle like an amplified tea kettle.
She doesn’t sing songs like "When We're High" and "One Night In The Sun" so much as she fires them like a riot control sonic cannon at the crowd. This is singer-songwriter, adult-contemporary music turned up to 11. It’s humbling and overwhelming to hear someone shred such a magnificent instrument in public. After a while, though, it does get a bit tiring. The hills start smoothing down flat into a plain and what was once awe-inspiring is now routine.
LP did throw in a couple of curveballs to keep her show unpredictable. She busted out a ukulele for a few numbers, and she and her band pulled off a seamless medley at one point, transitioning from LP’s song “No Witness” to “Sex on Fire” from Kings Of Leon. The cut between songs was so smooth it took a moment to realize they were playing a cover. And kudos to LP and her band: They took one of the worst songs to chart on rock radio in the 21st century and actually made it sound good.
And as LP played, the crowd fed her positive energy. They hurled bandanas at her; When she invited them to sing along or clap (like on the glammy stomp of “No Witness”), the crowd inside the Van Buren eagerly played along. LP isn’t a household name yet, but the crowd in the theater responded to her like she was one. They went gaga for her like that was her name.