Lissie – O2 Academy, Oxford: 12/03/14

I will admit from the outset that I am a fairly recent convert to the charms of Miss Elisabeth Corrin Maurus – a 31-year-old singer-songwriter from Rock Island, Illinois (now resident in Ojai, California), whose style has been favourably likened to Stevie Nicks and has also attracted country and folk-rock comparisons.

I first heard the rather marvellous, rocking, single “Further Away (Romance Police)” last autumn, when it received a decent amount of airplay on good ol’ Radio 2 and consequently decided to take a punt on the new album “Back to Forever”. It delighted me to the extent that I very quickly added her 2010 debut “Catching a Tiger” – both albums fully deserving “Five-K” reviews (!) in old money, I might say!

Arriving at the venue at about 6.45 pm, I found a worryingly short queue, but this enabled me to claim pole position – front and centre on the barrier – for the evening’s entertainment, which began a little after 8.00 pm as more punters streamed in.

Tonight’s opening act, Norma Jean Martine, is a young American Kate Middleton look-alike, currently living in London. From behind her electric piano and accompanied by a very competent guitarist and drummer, she turned out an enjoyable half-hour set of “blues-pop”, that at times reminded me somewhat of a more-velvety-voiced Tori Amos. NJM was very well received by the “smiley front-rowers” and the ever-increasing crowd, and warmed us up nicely for what I can only describe as a simply sensational headlining act.

With the audience swelled to a very decent capacity, Lissie arrived on stage just after 9.00 pm to a rapturous reception and told us that she had a “handful of songs” to play for us this evening. Her set began with “Wedding Bells” (from the “Why You Runnin’” EP)”, which swerved seamlessly into “When I’m Alone”, “Bully” and “Record Collector”, all from “… Tiger”, before the tempo was well and truly stepped up with the rocker “Can’t Take it Back” and the vibrant current single “The Habit”, both from the new album.

A simply fantastic 80-minute set of well-crafted songs followed, drawn from both studio albums, with great rock numbers mingling expertly with quieter, thoughtful affairs. There were far too many highlights to list individually, the crowd responding to every number with enthusiasm, and each song was delivered with passion and warmth through a crystal clear sound system that really nailed down what an incredible, powerful voice this lady has.

In between songs Lissie engaged in a lot of good-humoured banter with the crowd, even inviting a punter (who had earlier entered and won a raffle at the bar) onstage to join her for a shot of Tequila, ahead of the encore!

The main set also showcased a song entitled “Shroud” – that Lissie had written very early in her career and had recently rediscovered – as well as a spellbinding rendition of Danzig’s “Mother”, which features on the current covers EP “Crying to You” (buy it – you will not be disappointed!) before the sublime “Further Away” signed off a faultless, truly stunning, performance.

The two-song encore consisted of the nostalgia-themed title track from the Back to Forever album and a cracking version of “In Sleep” from Catching a Tiger, before this perfect evening came to an end and a beaming Lissie leapt down to pat hands with the entire front row… and then she was gone…

To complete my review, I really must add a well-deserved mention to Lissie’s backing band:

Lead guitarist Eric Sullivan – the man with the “thousand-yard-stare”, who’s totally into what he’s doing – and he does it very well indeed!

Jesse Siebenberg on drums – who spent as much time away from his kit, playing keyboards and steel slide guitar, as he did sitting in the drummer’s seat.

Bass guitarist Lewis Keller – who doubled up as a second drummer, filling in for Siebenberg whilst the latter played keys or slide. I have to say that I found Mr Keller’s talent to be quite remarkable, his small kit comprising a bass drum, a vertically-set snare drum and a couple of hi-hats, all of which he played, seated, with foot pedals – while simultaneously playing the bass! Quite amazing!

All I can really say, to sum up, is that if you have never seen Lissie and her band live, you are missing a real treat, and I will be back – hopefully at the front again – as Rockgig’s official Lissie correspondent, the next time she comes to visit us in Oxford.

Nights of great entertainment such as this (and all for just £15!) make you want to praise the gods for giving us live music… and to thank them for giving us Lissie… she’s really quite phenomenal!

Steve Lewis
(The man who has Lissie in his name!)

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