Braving the unusually chilly elements, fans formed a queue outside the Bowery Ballroom on Friday night as they eagerly awaited their beloved Laura Stevenson‘s return home to New York for the last stop of her tour—which also doubled as the record release show for her third album, Wheel. These fans would soon be jumping and cheering, not because they no longer had to face the rain, but rather because of the powerhouse performance going on inside the venue. Supported by Owen—the solo project of Mike Kinsella—and fellow Brooklyn band Field Mouse, the show was chock-full of self-deprecating jokes, crushing guitars, and cheers from Laura Stevenson’s dad, who was among the crowd along with other members of her family.
Field Mouse came prepared with their brand of indie-pop shoegaze but fell short when it came to their punch lines. What they lacked in comedic abilities, they made up for with pounding drums and driving bass lines. Frontwoman Rachel Browne’s sweet, airy vocals seemed to effortlessly whisk the crowd’s attention towards the stage. Of course, their attention was also captured by Field Mouse’s lush textures and entrancing use of fuzzy feedback. Browne thanked the attentive and engaging crowd for watching “the opening band” (aka them) which she admits she only “sometimes” does.
Owen followed suit with a set that could be deemed lackadaisical if heard by someone only half-listening. Alone onstage equipped with nothing but an acoustic guitar, Kinsella let the songs happen naturally, warning the crowd that tonight, “anything goes.” Whether that meant stopping songs mid-way through them, or garbling incorrect lyrics—”something that rhymes with kiss”—Owen left the stage having completed a satiating performance. His set consisted of raw, masterful melodies, Billy Bragg covers, and wistful reminiscences about medical TV series ER.
While Owen may have brought things to a simmer with his emotive lyricism, Laura Stevenson brought things back to a boil, slowly building up with opener, “Every Tense.” She prepared the audience slowly for her expansive vocals only to explode with “Runner.” Its cascading repeated refrain of “This summer hurts” had the crowd jumping and singing along, while Stevenson and her band, the Cans, looked blissful on stage. Stevenson has a knack for writing songs about death, self-destruction and even the decay of California, but these dismal themes that are the bloodline of her music are contrasted with her folk-twinged pop melodies, which are at their most upbeat when performed live.
“8:08″ not only impressed the crowd with its light show—even putting a smile on drummer Dave Garwacke’s face—but also highlighted Stevenson’s vocal range. The band’s passion and spontaneity was vibrant throughout their set of old favorites and a good portion of Stevenson’s April release, Wheel. The new sleekness that graces Wheel, thanks to producer Kevin McMahon (Titus Andronicus, Frightened Rabbit), worked just as well live as it does on the record. Still, Laura Stevenson and the Cans made do without the strings and horns that enriched their newest release. Guitarist Peter Naddeo cleverly utilized his guitar pedal to recreate the missing strings on “L-Dopa” to great effect.
A Laura Stevenson show simply brims with life. As much as she vibes with her backing band, she does just as well on her own. Singing acoustically on “The Move,” Stevenson brought the venue to a near mute state with her crushing lyricism and hypnotic vocals. But nothing could captivate a crowd quite like set-closer “Landslide Song” with Field Mouse’s Rachel Browne on tambourine, Andrew Futral on guitar, and Saysha Heinzman clapping along jubilantly. Everyone on stage wore a smile, radiating pure joy as they were welcomed home.
Photos by Nancy Hoang.