Imagine a barn storming dance with all the arena aspects in the quaintest place you could dream up. Straw mixed with stage lights. Aged floorboards and monitors. Towers of amps reaching towards the wooden rafters. Wednesday night, Lissie returned to her hometown Quad Cities to perform in Davenport after attaining unexpected heights in Europe, the UK especially. It was clear it was nothing but excitement and warmth coming from her that evening, surrounded by friends and family alike in the Redstone Room of the River Music Experience. Before going on, the River Music Experience is something you should travel to see. The non-profit holds music classes for area youth and adults, a museum housing pieces from legendary musicians, a coffee house, as well as a second floor venue, the Redstone Room. For the musician at heart, it’s as comforting as coming a home-cooked meal to see that something like this exists.
Climbing up the stairs in the relatively new building, Americana singer/songwriter Dylan LeBlanc was projected above until you passed through the gates into the Room. Dylan, signed to Rough Trade, was modest but earnest on stage. LeBlanc’s sound, backed by Benjamin on keys and the perennial nord electro, painted a low contrast soundscape as he went through songs from last August’s Paupers Field. Do take a listen to the Shreveport, Louisiana native and the smoothly rolling hills of his songs.
With her niece and family up in front, Davenport was impatient for Lissie to take the stage; rightfully so after she had to postpone the previous date due to illness. But when she did, it became instantly clear the Quad Cities has embraced her as each and everyone’s darling. Before beginning her set, the happiness was overflowing as Lissie sang “Happy birthday” to her mom.
“Wedding Bells” opened the evening, with Lewis Keller covering both bass and drums and Eric Sullivan on guitar. Through Lissie’s constant movement, her music embodies the songwriter into nearly a trance taking over her entire being. You got this as the song progressed. The ensuing set drew back the scrim of marital invitation sadness, revealing definitively one of the strongest female voices in live music today (alongside Anna Vogelzang and, more subtly, Laura Marling). The build-up just kept climbing, climbing and climbing with her singing leaping and bounding to surprising peaks.
Following “When I’m Alone,” Lissie took the time to add anecdotes and meaning to her passionate songs. She explained how she went to university in Colorado, spent a semester in Paris, then moved to L.A. to be a signer. When she ended up “around people that I didn’t think were very good people, didn’t tell the truth and they weren’t really genuine,” she wrote the song as “guidelines to remember and live by, bearing in mind how loved you are.” And after the song, the love for those in her town became apparent when she took the time to tell a good friend of hers that her love has ‘a heart of gold’ and was one ‘of the most interesting and most thoughtful’ people before going into “Record Collector.”
Soon thereafter, one of the main peaks of the night came in “Cuckoo” followed up by “Everywhere I Go.” The freedom exuded by her battle cry of “Cuckoo” washed over the room both from the stage and the four projectors along the wall. That barn stormer of a dance mentioned earlier? Here was one of those unbridled moments building up into Lissie’s shouts and country-influenced voice. “Everywhere I Go” quickly calmed the crowd, leaving it just her with the gels leaving the Quad Cities resonating the notes from her voice late at night.
Unless you were in the back of the room and not looking at the screens, you couldn’t help but remark on Lewis Sullivan covering both bass and drums. I hadn’t seen a musician do that before, but it’s wholly impressive to see a bassist keep the rhythm while his feet cover the snare, hi hat and bass drum all at once. It’s more so during “Little Lovin’,” her uptempo foot-stomping romp leaving the crowd in bounds of claps and cheers. It was here the realization hits that Lissie has a voice that befits a stadium, but is comfortable to stay in the friendliest of nooks and crannies.
Coerced back on stage for the encore, Lissie dedicated the first song, “Oh Mississippi”, for the great spirit of her aunt. With the river a mere two blocks away, not far from where Lissie began, you couldn’t help but be silenced over the vintage, gospel-like folk. It will surely become one of those rare moments in live music to be talked about for some time, at least in my concert goings. After final thank yous, she ended “obeying the crowd” with a song she discovered through her best friend playing it over and over, “Pursuit of Happiness.” Although it’s Kid Cudi’s, she seized it, performed it, and the audience made it her own. That night in Davenport, it was truly hard to tell who was there for who. Lissie had returned to her hometown, and friends and family welcomed her with an openness and unparalleled warmth. As she mentioned earlier about moving around the world, “You really see that when you’re from the Midwest, you carry that everywhere.”
Note: A big thank you to everyone at the Redstone Room. This was my first trip to Davenport or the Quad Cities and frankly, I’d love to return. Everyone was tremendous. Here’s to keep the night alive…