The last time I saw Laura Stevenson, she was very pregnant and the world had not yet been turned upside down. Back in December of 2019, I got to see her and her band at Jersey City’s Monty Hall. A week later, I was fortunate enough to be at Jeff Rosenstock’s Monday night residency at Trans-Pecos and Stevenson came out to do a couple of songs from her and Rosenstock’s Neil Young covers EP, Still Young. Well we all know what has transpired since then. So let’s fast forward to August 2021 and the release of her eponymous album, Laura Stevenson, which I quite honestly feel is currently my favorite album of the year.
Fast forward yet again to October 2021 and Stevenson and her band kicked off a mini tour of the Northeast, playing shows in Boston, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and DC (which was as an opener for Lucy Dacus). As an added bonus the opener for the headlining shows was Anika Pyle, who you might know from her days with Chumped, or maybe her band Katy Ellen or maybe her other side project Sheena, Anika, and Augusta. Regardless, this was clearly going to be one of those double bills made for the ages, one where either band would be worth the price of admission all by themselves.
Music Hall of Williamsburg had two shows on Saturday night so it turned out that Stevenson’s show was early. Fine by me as I had an early work morning on Sunday anyway. Taking the stage at 7 PM sharp, Anika Pyle was joined by fellow Philadelphians, Kayleigh Goldsworthy on background harmonies and fiddle (yeah, the same Kayleigh Goldsworthy I’d seen with Frank Turner recently). Also joining in was Kiley Lotz AKA Petal on vocals and keys with Zack Robbins of Dark Mountain rounding out the band on drums and synths. Pyle and her friends kicked the night off with a poignant version of “Wild River,” from her album of the same name which she released earlier in the year. The rest of the set was primarily songs from Wild River, save for a new one called “The Way You Looked At Me,” and a cover of Kasey Musgraves’ “Space Cowboy.”
About three quarters of the way through her set, Pyle paused to explain that this evening marked the two year anniversary of the passing of her father. She then explained a little back story as to her dad’s life, warts as well as triumphs, and followed with the spoken word tribute to him off of Wild River, “Mexican Restaurant, Where I Last Saw My Father.” Hands down, this was the most emotional, gut wrenching moment of the night. At its conclusion, a visibly shaken Pyle looked at each of her bandmates, or rather each of her friends, and each and every one returned THAT look where you know its going to be OK, we’ve got your back.
One might have wondered how you follow a set like that which was overflowing with raw emotion, but truth be told, Laura Stevenson and her band came out plain and simply kicked ass. Opening up with the first single off of Laura Stevenson, the most un-Laura-like “State.” Followed by “Master Of Art ” from Sit Resist, the classic Laura Stevenson and The Cans LP from 2011 which received a 10 year anniversary repackaging last year from Don Giovani Records. From here the band dove into a rollicking version of “Torch Song,” from Stevenson’s 2015 masterpiece Cocksure, with everyone in the room singing along to the “Test me” chorus. Followed by two from the new one, “Sky Blue, Bad News,” and “Wrench”, it was clear that Stevenson and the band were having a blast up on stage. She jokingly introduced “Halloween Pts 1 & 2” as a seasonal song before telling the crowd that her and bassist Mike Campbell’s little girl was going to be Chucky for Halloween this year.
At this point, the band left the stage to allow Stevenson to sing a couple of songs solo. It was then that she played the first song of the night from 2019’s Big Freeze, “Value Inn.” While on stage by herself she then invited old friend, regular collaborator, and current LA resident Jeff Rosenstock out to help her sing along to Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” (another “seasonal” song) from the duo’s aforementioned EP Still Young. If you were to have told me ahead of time that Jeff would come out to join in on a song and it wasn’t the high point of the set, I’d have said that you were crazy. But I mean no disrespect to Laura & Jeff’s version of “Harvest Moon,” it was in fact fantastic, but the rest of her set was just THAT good. Finishing out the balance of the set with “Living Room, NY, “Continental Divide,” (my favorite track on my favorite album by the way), “Jellyfish,” and “8:08.”
The evening’s surprises weren’t quite over just yet however, as guitarist Peter Naddeo came back onstage after the encore break, trumpet in hand for a gorgeous version of “The Wheel,” and then a show stopping, hip shaking, hands clapping, word shouting finale, “Dermatillomania,” from The Big Freeze album. What a night…I couldn’t have asked for more. And boy am I stoked that I get to do it again this weekend in Philly.
Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Ray Rusinak)