Friday, October 25, 2013

Hugh Laurie's Joyful Noise

Courtesy Kelsey Rae via Release the Clackum

I witnessed a lovefest at the Birchmere club in Alexandria, VA the other night.
It took many forms.

First and foremost, it was a lovefest between Hugh Laurie and the blues. It's safe to say Hugh Laurie would take a bullet for the blues. Yes, he loves it that much.

Second, it was a lovefest between Hugh Laurie and his kick-ass band, The Copper Bottom Band. It's rare that you go to a concert and see such affection among bandmembers. They seem to bask not only in each other's talent but in the joy they share in their communal groove.

Finally, of course, it was a love affair between Hugh Laurie and his audience. That's no surprise, though. The man is just an insanely gifted showman/raconteur/wit. I always describe his public appearances as the detonation of charm bombs.

So can we get something out of the way here, once and for all? Hugh Laurie has every right to be up on that stage. In a world where no one blinks an eye over the latest autotuned pop tart, it works my last nerve that people suggest that just because Hugh is a famous actor he can't also be a talented and committed blues musician. His encyclopedic knowledge of blues alone, not to mention his abilities as a musical curator, should more than qualify him to be on stage. (The guy's taste in New Orleans and Louisiana blues is basically above reproach.) On top of that, he's a world class piano player and a more than serviceable guitar player, too.

(I won't defend Hugh's right as a wealthy British white guy to sing the blues, because he's more than effectively made that case himself: To suggest that only a certain portion of the population can play this great music is to marginalize it, which is the exact opposite of what Hugh is trying to do.)

As for his voice? Well, it's a bit too pure of tone for the blues. He's really more of a natural crooner. But he's musical as all get-out, plus as an actor, he has a natural ability to bring a wide range of emotions to the fore. I'll take someone who embodies and loves the music and sings it in tune over some melisma obsessed screecher any day. But hey, maybe that's just me.

I really can't say enough about the Copper Bottom Band. I saw Hugh in concert last year, in support of Let Them Talk and the band was amazingly tight then. With the addition of smoky-voiced singer Gaby Moreno (a perfect complement to the rip-roaring blues belter Sista Jean) and badass trombone player Elizabeth Lea (my new hero), they're even better now. Really, ever single member is so tight and so damn musical, they're a joy to watch.

My only objection: As mentioned, Hugh adores his band (and they adore him right back). As such, he gives them lots of room to show off. Some of the solo songs by Gaby Moreno ("The Weed Smoker's Dream") and Sista Jean ("I Hate a Man Like You"), not to mention their impossibly infectious duet "Didn't It Rain," are among the best of the night. And each band member gets his or her moment to shine. I only wish that he had given himself a few such moments. The guy has serious chops on the piano; it would be okay for him to strut his stuff from time to time. Just the man's natural modesty at play, I suppose.

That being said, a night with the Copper Bottom Band is a musical gift to audiences wrapped in a bow and topped with a cherry (or a shot of 12-year-old Macallan, if you prefer). If you're not feeling the love, it's indeed time to check your pulse.