in performance: lydia loveless

lydia loveless

lydia loveless.

“We’re going to play our Neko Case tribute set now,” said Lydia Loveless as she dug into her 75 minute performance last night at Willie’s Locally Known.

It was a purely sarcastic but perhaps unintentionally ironic remark. Like it or not, there are similarities between the two singers, from the clarity, potency and timbre of their voices down the narrative structure of their songs.

But there were also a number of stylistic traits in Loveless’ show highlighting distinctions in her music. She is a straight talker, whether it’s about love, sex or personal identity, and if that meant tossing a few coarse words into her songs to roughen the terrain or strength her viewpoint, so be it.

Such instances underscored the occasionally punkish undertow in older works (Can’t Change Me, from 2011’s Indestructible Machine album, in particular) that made it into Loveless’ setlist last night. But the eight songs pulled from the new Somewhere Else (nine, if you count the vinyl version) were comparatively streamlined with country and Americana accents.

On Chris Issak, the reference point favored Rosanne Cash over Case while the album’s title tune used strains of pedal steel guitar to summon a steady but restless groove and a similar sense of discontent (“I just want to be somewhere else tonight”). It was a rather finely crafted piece of unsettled, autumnal pop.

All that said, the overall performance design of this show could have done with some sprucing up. Guitarist Toss May, while connecting with Loveless for the odd harmony or two, spent considerable time crouched by his amp or sipping beers during songs (not between songs, but actually during them). There was also an instance where Loveless’ drummer left the stage to use the restroom, leaving the rest of the band to begin Verlaine Shot Rimbaud without him. His return earned an onstage scolding from the singer and a noticeable drop in band drive and cohesion that lasted for several songs.

Finally, it was tough to decipher Loveless’ choice to end the show with four songs performed solo on electric guitar. There was a certain coarse appeal to the set. In the end, though, each song (especially the wistful More Like That) would have benefited from the color and embellishment her band could have provided.

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