We are currently blessed with a plethora of incredibly talented female singer-songwriters and Manchester welcomes the latest American from this list at the Academy tonight. Lissie is actually not a new artist. She’s been making records since 2007, but she is a rather recent personal discovery and it seems that her sound has undergone a degree of reinvention since her earlier records, making her more relevant than ever before. The poppier production values that exist on releases such as Catching a Tiger have been toned down a degree and the singer appears to have returned back to her roots with more of a focus on delivering a more authentic, Americana style.
To establish this musical context, the packed audience in Manchester are treated to a hugely satisfying solo performance from Teddy Thompson in the support slot. Previous shows down the years have been thrilling affairs with a full band, but this evening his subtle set allows the New York based singer to experiment with his back-catalogue, presenting tracks from several of his records in a much more stark and delicate manner. The dry, self-deprecating wit is still present and correct and when he sings about never being able to find the right girl he informs the crowd that singer-songerwriters must have that innate ability to imagine scenarios such as this one actually happening to them. The silky vocals are also a key feature of the evening and Separate Ways is a gloriously stripped back joy that thrills despite the disconsolate tone of the song. The slot ends with Leonard Cohen song Ballad of the Absent Mare which he sings immaculately despite the need to check the lyrics on his phone, precariously balanced on his guitar. It’s an amusing moment ensuring the gloomier aspects of the set don’t become too melancholy.
Lissie’s latest release is the brilliant Live at Union Chapel and tonight is essentially a rendition of this record with one or two subtle differences. On Union Chapel Lissie generally performs solo and is only occasionally accompanied by piano, on the incredible River for example. This evening however, her flawless performance is enhanced by Nick Tesoriero’s virtuoso skills on the acoustic guitar, adding pleasing textures to the evening, along with several wow moments that have the crowd cheering in appreciation. The focus is clearly on Elizabeth Maurus however and the evening is a stripped back joy which reinforces the passion and innate song-writing ability of this thirty-four year old Illinoisan.
She openly acknowledges the relevance of tracks such as the Fleetwood Mac inspired When I’m Alone, which she regards as the song that really proved to be the catalyst for her current trajectory, but she is also very honest about how she wanted to be more in control of the direction of this journey, hence the move away from California to a farm in the midwest. Despite these hints at a dissatisfaction with earlier records such as Catching a Tiger, we are still treated to Bully and the moving Oh Mississippi ensuring that the evening possesses something for everyone.
Personal highs arrive during tracks from latest record My Wild West however and Lissie explains how the move away from California inspired the songs in a very positive way. Daughter’s vital and dynamic call to arms is thrilling and Don’t You Give up on Me has a much rawer and more immediate demeanor presented in this style, compared to the equally rousing version on record. Covers by the aforementioned Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt round off a perfect evening full of sweeping emotion. The rendition of River, particularly at this time of year, is inspired and Tesoriero’s contribution proves mesmerizing.
Throughout the evening we are constantly reminded what an incredible vocalist we have in our midst. Lissie’s voice is forceful and passionate but there’s an incredible range that is used so effortlessly. Her songs clearly resonate with her as well as her fans and performing them live provides a cathartic release, not only for us but for Lissie too and by the end of the evening it seems that she really has begun the next stage of a journey that will keep on providing musical thrills for a long time to come.
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto