Words by: Lindsay Colip | Images by: Steven Walter
Greg Laswell :: 04.02.09 :: Slim's :: San Francisco, CA
Ensconced in a setting more appropriate for either Alice in Wonderland or the main dining room at Rainforest Cafe, Greg Laswell delivered another crowd-pleasing show at Slim's. Touring with longtime friend Rachael Yamagata seems to have come with a price. That price being a stage decorated with silk flowers of exploding colors, miniature stuffed animals and twinkling tea lights. However, Laswell doesn't mind. In fact, he joked that it was he that begged Yamagata to let him bring a few personal items from home to make him feel more comfortable. Being modestly dressed in jeans, t-shirt, a warm hat and a heavy beard made the contrast of the fantasia setting and the 'of the earth' singer even more distinct, but by no means did it not work. A songwriter who delves deep into pain and heartbreak and lost love could use this kind of hug. The enchanted dressing and decoration did just that, keeping he and bassist-backup vocalist Brandon Walter cozy, comfortable and smiling throughout the show.
Slim's was a perfect venue for what felt like an hour of intimate fireside chats. Laswell's strength is definitely in his storytelling, his ability to connect with his audience. When I asked about why he decided to communicate with the audience on such a confidential level, he responded, "You know a lot of my songs are on the sad side, so I want people when they come to the show, to feel like they spent an evening with the guy that wrote the songs that they came to hear and not just me up there singing. I like to interact with them."
And interact he did. Playing songs from both Through Toledo and his most recent album, Three Flights from Alto Nido, he told story after story about each song and its relevance and origin. At one point he had the crowd laughing: "My next song is called 'The One I Love,' ironically written about the one I no longer love. Most of my songs outlive the people they're about." He also treated us to his 2007 cover of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," which apparently had spawned plenty of hate mail when it first came out. Another highlight was his recounting of how he wrote and recorded "How It Moves" on Garage Band on his computer. In his opinion it was terrible in the coolest way and when he approached his label about including it on the album, their response was, "Oh, that's cute." But, Laswell liked his lo-fi version so much that he ended up putting both interpretations on the album. For this audience, he played the "bad" version, which he promised was a compliment.
|Greg Laswell :: 04.02 :: San Francisco|
Laswell, who plays both guitar and piano, has a sweeping, scratchy and beautifully saddened voice. It's the voice of one who's had perhaps a few too many whiskey drinks, sleepless nights in bad hotel rooms and a whole lot of ache. It's so packed with emotion and life that you can hardly believe he's still standing. Walter has the perfect complimentary voice to highlight Laswell's melodies, so subtle that you hardly notice he's singing but so necessary to take the songs to a full, rich place. The remarkable thing is that watching Laswell sing, play keys and strum his guitar makes you feel like you can do it, too. He makes it look so easy that I wouldn't be surprised if people went home and dusted off their guitars. His lyrics are simple and important, nothing cryptic or confusing but more along the lines of, "Won't you let me take your hand/ I have an extra I'm not using." The easy to learn lyrics subsequently result in audience sing-alongs.
When fans feel like they're truly connecting with their favorite artist and the artist feel they've helped make this connection possible, it is equally beneficial and rewarding. Laswell's got this fan/artist equation down. Case in point, after the show, Laswell and Walter hung out by the merch table and posed for photos, signed autographs and chatted with fans. Artists certainly don't have to take the time to do this, but Laswell prides himself on it. Based on the fact that the guys at the show wanted to be his best friend and the girls at the show wanted to fall in love with him, Greg Laswell is clearly making the right choices. His future looks as colorful and luminous as the stage upon which he performed.
Greg Laswell's next show is on April 21 is Costa Mesa, CA; tour dates available here.
Continue reading for a few more pics of Greg Laswell in San Francisco...