Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to interview Lissie in person as part of an in-depth editorial for this publication which you can read here. So when I saw that Lissie had announced an intimate acoustic Christmas UK Tour, to fittingly help promote her recently released acoustic album, Live At Union Chapel, I was delighted when the opportunity arose to review her Gloucester Guildhall show as a companion-piece to that article.
No stranger to playing with either a backing band or on her own, this evening however, Lissie is accompanied by guitarist Nick Tesoriero, who provides all of the lead guitar parts, textural musical embellishments and harmonies. Interestingly, this is most likely due to the fact that when I quizzed Lissie at the start of 2016, she openly admitted: "I feel like I'm a singer first and a guitar player second, but I mean, you could just hand me some crappy guitar that's out-of-tune and sucks, and I kind of feel that I could make it work you know?" This humble and down-to-earth approach also extends to her natural look (celebrating her femininity without ever wishing to be perceived as a sex symbol) and modest, fuss-free stage set-up, which consists solely of a mic-stand and a small table for her red wine and water. Tonight then, is all about a gifted artist, her music and her soul-baring voice.
With a 400-standing capacity crowd eagerly awaiting her arrival, at 9.15pm, Lissie and Nick take to the stage to rapturous and enthusiastic applause, respectfully clapping the audience in return, with the laid-back Lissie boasting a big cheerful smile and emitting her usual friendly warmth. And with no press pit / venue safety barrier, fans who arrived early are stood right against the stage, up-close-and-personal with Lissie.
A balanced set list runs the gamut of her career to date, from new songs to old tracks, uptempo numbers to broken-hearted ballads, fan favourites to deep cuts, which all sit comfortably next to each other and enable Lissie to showcase just what a mesmerising and versatile vocal range she has! From soft husky fragility, to soaring high notes and everything in-between - her impassioned delivery and irrepressible, crystal clear voice is truly stunning! Especially when you consider that with acoustic performances, there isn't really anything that can mask a singer's shortcomings and that arguably, the mark of any great song, is one that still works even when reduced to its core elements.
With the onstage chemistry and interaction between Lissie and Nick adding an extra immersive visual stimulant to the set, spectators watch and listen with reverence and personal highlights for me include, Hero, They All Want You, The Habit, Shameless, Everywhere I Go and Don't You Give Up On Me. And although Lissie's sonic palette features indie folk, rock, pop, blues, soul and country amongst its colours, these flawless acoustic renditions of her studio recordings, have a much more Americana and rustic feel about them - just as striking, but in a different way.
Clearly a talkative musician who genuinely enjoys honest, good-natured banter with an audience as well. Throughout the evening, we're treated to an array of tales, such as how this is Lissie's first ever visit to Gloucester, "Everyone is so nice" and how her and Nick had a very memorable night out on the Friday evening before this gig, at a pub whose DJ specialised in spinning heavy metal music: "We slept all day, but still have sore necks from head-banging so much" she giggles. Lissie even expresses her outright joy when she found out that the Gloucester Guildhall had a washing machine in their dressing room, which her and Nick were able to use for their stash of touring laundry: "I'd been having to wear the same pair of socks for up to 3-days" she humorously chuckles, in reference to the less glamorous side of life on the road.
On a more serious note, we're also regaled with the emotional, cathartic and heartfelt stories behind some of her best loved songs, as well as props to artists who have inspired her lyrically and musically, which sees Lissie beautifully covering both Joni Mitchell's River and Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me. Far from being a subdued night however, when more energetic tracks pop-up in the set list, Lissie really goes for it, belting-out lines and emphasising specific words, before throwing her head back and moving away from her mic-stand to fiercely strum chords. Which in turn, makes you believe even more that she feels every single lyric that she sings!
For those in attendance who may not know, Lissie later goes on to explain how with her most recent record, My Wild West, she bravely took the reins of her own career and is now proudly a fully-fledged and self-financed independent artist. Adding, how after waving goodbye to her old life in Ojai, California, she returned home to the Midwest and purchased a 10-acre farm in a small town in Iowa. Before joking how she's now intending to buy a donkey and that if we have any "money burning a hole in our pocket," that we can help the cause, by purchasing some of her merch after the show for Christmas presents which elicits much laughter from the crowd.
Following an encore of Ojai and In Sleep (replete with an epic, virtuoso guitar solo by Tesoriero), Lissie then wishes us all Happy Holidays, reminding you how on a winter night, Lissie's unforgettable voice, impressive songwriting and ear-worming melodies, are as pure as the driven snow. And that sometimes, a simple night of engaging entertainment is all you need - this was a Christmas cracker of a concert to remember!
Although as touched upon in my interview, Lissie no longer has the push of a major record label behind her, big marketing budgets or tour support, and getting mainstream media exposure and radio airplay is tough for many talented artists. Thankfully however, she has now arrived at a place where once people do discover the qualities of her music, they're unlikely to be fairweather fans and will instead value it forever, remaining loyal listeners (as part of her existing devoted fanbase) who are in it for the long haul, feverishly anticipating what Lissie will do next...
A very special thanks to Molly at Six07 Press for all of her time and help.