The piano-based, three-piece band Elizabeth and the Catapult relied on dual male and female vocals reminiscent of a '90s pop version of the Civil Wars. Front woman Elizabeth Ziman supported her two backing band members with a set of pipes that would make any indie artist or fan shiver. Ziman's drummer sat on top of a split wooden drum-box and banged out a sound like that of brushed drums on "Go Away My Lover" from 2010's "The Other Side of Zero."
Alone on stage, Ziman remained at her Nord piano/synthesizer to play with a classical sound (reflecting her training) that snaked and scoped its way through diminished points and grand, near Dark Dark Dark virtuosity. Other highlights included "Mamma's Boy" from 2009's "Taller Children" and the quiet breaker-upper, "Thank You For Nothing."
Soon, Greg Laswell and his six-piece band, including two members of Elizabeth and the Catapult (featuring Ziman on vocals and piano), started into "New Year's Eves" from 2012's "Landline." Beginning quietly, the song built toward a crescendo, an infectious cello stroke followed by the chorus, "Maybe I'm a fool, but I don't believe you’re through." The crowd full of young ladies and their beaus emitted a hushed swoon as Laswell's velvety vocals crashed over them.
Laswell then offered a smile-tinged "Hello," and told the audience he would be alternating between an old song and a new song and hoped that by the end of the night, "Everyone [would] be happy." "Take Everything," from 2010's "Take a Bow," showcased Laswell's thick, brassy vocals -- the live version stood more somber and with less snarky guitar lead than the studio version. Ziman added piano accents and crystalline vocals to the back of the mix.
New song "I Might Drop" concerned itself with a sleepy kind of self-preservation sometimes found in the shelter of relationships. Oddly replete with bombastic drums and an I'll-come-around-vibe, "I might drop by from time to time," the piece established itself as a piano-pop rocker, like something from the Fray or Mat Kearney.
Fan-favorite, "Sing, Theresa Says," from 2006's "Through Toledo," featured Laswell's characteristic fingerpicking and a clean twinkle of electric guitar skulking across the top of the mix. The whole band sang the "Ba, da, da’s" of the chorus in perfect harmony. The serene cello of "Another Life to Lose" from "Landline" gave way to a tumbling piano crescendo that bled into "What a Day," (Laswell taking over the piano), the song’s lyrics being about a wasted life reclaimed. Guitarist Chris Cubeta supported Laswell with a nice touch of distortion.
Laswell played a softened version of "How the Day Sounds," alone, which he confessed was originally slow and sad, but now brightened and sped up because he needed "an upbeat song for the record." Ziman returned for the duet "Back to You," to which the humble Laswell stated, "Just let me get through my part, then you all can hear Elizabeth take it away."
"Late Arriving" stood brilliant as the highlight of the show. The song was a tribute to Laswell’s ailing father (who is now better), but ended up as a kind of apology, which surprised the musician. "The song kinda took a left turn on me," Laswell said.
The rest of the band returned for the hit "Comes and Goes (In Waves)," from 2008's "Three Flights From Alto Nido." Laswell sang, "This one is for the faithless, the ones that are surprised, they are only where they are now regardless of their fight," with a wistful quality that made all the lovers in the venue draw close, relishing their affection. The "Oh, oh, oh’s" at the end of the chorus nicely mirrored "Sing, Theresa Says" and were supported by palm-muted guitar from Cubeta.
"Come Back Down" was loud like an Our Lady Peace stadium rocker. Laswell rounded out his set with "Off I Go," "Dragging You Around," and "Landline," which he started off unplugged standing at the very edge of the stage.
Laswell returned alone for a spate of acoustic songs the crowd had requested during the main portion of his show. "Lie to Me," which sounds like "Take Everything," worked well until Laswell forgot the lyrics during the second verse. The audience cheered and easily provided them. The same occurred during the opening of "Sweet Dream," but the audience found the artist's nerves endearing as Laswell repeated, "No one better put this up on YouTube!"
After a quick version of "The One I Love," essay writer Laswell's band came back for a stellar rendition of Kristin Hersh's "Your Ghost"; Laswell's vocals provided a darkened sway that enraptured the audience: "I think last night you were driving circles around me." Laswell left the stage, signed autographs, took photos -- and even helped a man propose to his lady. Everyone was happy that Laswell was "Driving circles around [us]," and (I'm sure) we'll all welcome his return on July 16 at the Pageant with fellow musician and wife Ingrid Michaelson.