As hard as it is to believe, Laura Stevenson’s achingly beautiful and personal album, Wheel, is ten years old this year and to celebrate the anniversary of its release, she hit the road on what has become the norm for her and her band, a handful of hit and run weekend mini tours. Last weekend was Boston and New York. This coming weekend is Philly and DC, with a West Coast swing through LA, San Fransisco, Portland and Seattle coming in the last weekend of April, and lastly, a small rust belt jaunt in May where they’ll hit Chicago, Grand Rapids and Pittsburgh.
Even though I was fortunate enough to have caught Laura and her band just last month when she was part of The Screaming Female Garden Party Festival, I am not one to pass on one of her shows, especially a special one to commemorate such an incredible album as Wheel. The show at Brooklyn Made started off with a solo set from Katie Malco, a British singer songwriter whom Stevenson toured the UK with last Fall. Armed with only her upside down Fender Jazzmaster, her wonderful voice, a sharp wit and a handful of terrific tunes, Malco treated the already crowded room to a great opening set.
Following Malco was none other than Kayleigh Goldsworthy whose career I’ve been following since I first saw her some dozen years ago when she popped up on Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour. Since then I’ve seen her more times than I can count, be it just her and her guitar at a sleazy old man’s dive bar on the Lower East Side or as a support act for Frank Turner or Craig Finn or Dave Hause (who she’s also served as a member of his band, The Mermaid). She’s also played in Frank Iero’s band as well as helping out many of her Philly friends like Petal or Anika Pyle whenever they need vocal, keyboard or fiddle support. But this show at Brooklyn Made was the first time I’d had the opportunity to see her front her own band and the experience did not disappoint in the least. With a band consisting of former members of her first high school band, she ripped through a half hour set of songs mostly from her 2022 LP, Learning To Be Happy.
Kayleigh Goldsworthy at Brooklyn Made
Stevenson and her band took the stage at Brooklyn Made at roughly 10:45 to the absolute delight of the adoring and completely packed room of fans. Not surprisingly, the set commenced with the opening track from Wheel, “Renée,” a song about Stevenson’s love for her step mom. With Goldsworthy providing support on violin along with Shawn Alpay on cello, the song sounded as sweet and as touching as it was meant to.
Stevenson has stated numerous times since the original recording and release of Wheel, the album itself is kind of all over the place stylistically, something which was done intentionally. And although she has expressed issues in the past with the actual sequencing of the album, she pretty much stuck with that same sequencing for much of the show with one change later on in the set. Following the mellow and poignant “Renee” came the bouncy rock and roll number “Triangle,” which despite its upbeat tempo is a rather dark song loosely based on the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire which took place in a sweatshop in lower Manhattan in 1911 and which Stevenson became fixated on while recording the album during a bout of insomnia.
Next up was another rocker, “Runner,” which is the first song from the album which deals directly with Stevenson’s bouts of depression which she has been very vocal and open about throughout her career. Later on in the show she would dedicate “Journey To The Center Of The Earth” to her dad who happened to be there that night. In this introductory dedication she went on to say that she wrote the song while she was holed up in a small apartment in Long Beach, Long Island during a dark period where she would only leave the apartment to go to a nearby Baskin-Robbins for ice cream. One time she left her phone at said Baskin-Robbins and the person who found it called “Dad” to let them know that they had their son or daughter’s phone at the Baskin Robbins in Long Beach.
Stevenson and her band, which includes the aforementioned Goldsworthy and Alpay (who in addition to strings also provided keyboards and guitar) along with Stevenson’s husband Mike Campbell on bass and Sammi Niss on drums ripped through each of Wheel’s songs with the ups and downs, the slow ones and the fast ones performed with the same keen precision as on the album playing the songs with a sense of familiarity and genuine feel for and love of the music.
As I mentioned earlier, there was only one change to the album sequencing, and that was to accommodate Stevenson playing acoustic guitar on “The Hole” and “The Move” back to back without having to switch back and forth with her electric. And I have to say that her fingerpicking on “The Hole” was absolutely fantastic. Not something that we usually see from her, her style and chops were quite wonderful (not to mention Goldsworthy’s terrific fiddle fills).
Laura Stevenson at Brooklyn Made
It was around this point in the evening that she glanced down at the time and gave out a loud yelp, “Oh my god, its 11:30! I haven’t been up this late in I don’t know how long!” To which Campbell gave a triumphant head nod of agreement. She caught that head nod and responded with a quick “I guess we’re not gonna make it to tomorrow’s Easter egg hunt on time” which got quite the laugh from the crowd.
Continuing on with the rest of the album, it was very obvious that the music on Wheel meant quite a lot to Stevenson, as she mentioned many times throughout the evening little vignettes of what she was going through when this or that song was written or recorded. When the band finished up with the final notes of album closer and title track, “Wheel,” I don’t think that anyone in the room would have been disappointed with things if indeed that was the end of the performance, but this was not the case at all as we were treated to another half dozen non Wheel songs, one of which received some of the biggest ovations of the night; “Living Room, NY” from 2019’s The Big Freeze was greeted with a thunderous reaction. That was followed by another Big Freeze song, “Big Deep” to finish off the heartfelt night. And just like that, shortly after midnight on Easter morning Laura Stevenson sauntered off stage and the packed crowd inched their way towards the exits, each and every one of them content and happy with the performance they’d just had the opportunity to witness.
Scroll down for setlist, fan shot videos, pics of the show (photos by Ray Rusinak)
Setlist: Renée, Triangle, Runner, Every Tense, Bells & Whistles, Sink Swim, The Hole, The Move, Eleonora, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Telluride, L-DOPA, The Wheel, Moving Cars, State, Caretaker, Tom Sawyer/You Know Where You Can Find Me, Living Room NY, Big Deep