Threats of inclement weather, including an active tornado watch, did not stop people from attending the Greg Laswell concert Tuesday night in the M-Shop.
Citizens of Ames slowly trickled in until there were only a few empty seats left in the audience. The murmur of the crowd steadily rose into a roar as Greg Laswell and the rest of his band took the stage underneath the M-Shop's multicolored lights.
Donning a black trucker cap instead of his signature fedora, Laswell started his set off with energetic tune “Dodged a Bullet.” Right of the bat, Laswell and his ensemble established their ability to have eccentric vocal harmonies and an animated stage presence.
The most impressive characteristic of the song “Your Ghost” is how Laswell’s voice is showcased. As a baritone vocal type, he seems most comfortable in his lower sultry range. Yet, in this piece, he experiments with his upper falsetto tones and even includes some purposeful voice cracks to display his emotional involvement. This demonstrates the amount of control that Laswell has over his voice beyond being in tune.
“Royal Empress” was a crowd favorite. Since this song has been commonly performed in two different styles, Laswell decided to include both versions in Tuesday’s performance. His first style was more of the typical Laswell sound with exposed vocals and piano accompaniment. In the section rendition, the tone was completely flipped. The soulful ballad turned into a groovy, toe-tapping song, which everyone could enjoy without the emotional baggage attached to the more morose approach.
Then, the set returned to the sincere and passionate ballads. Before singing “Super Moon,” Laswell took a few minutes to bare his soul to the crowd and spoke about his personal tragedies. He explained how fans tend to use his songs to overcome their own sorrows.
“Pain is relative,” Laswell said. “And that’s what connects us.”
He then sang a gut-wrenching song about loss and family.
The set ends with Laswell’s rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” He begins with a psychedelic piano tune that bears little to no resemblance to the song, yet somehow seamlessly morphs into the verse. Laswell takes an upbeat pop song and creates a somber reflection on gender in his cover of the popular ’80s song.
If forced to find a fault with Laswell’s performance, it would be the predictable formula many, but not all, of his songs follow. They start with a beautiful piano melody with exposed vocals, and then at the climactic point of the piece, the band kicks in with abrupt aggressiveness. After hearing this pattern several times in one night, it can sound overused.
Laswell’s accompaniment was especially gifted. The drummer refused to play the standard, boring rock beat. He used a unique combination of kick drum and cymbal crashes to differentiate each song section from the other. The bass player created the pulse that synced the heartbeats of those in the audience and combined his vocals for intricate harmonies. Meanwhile, the guitar player was featured in several solos and provided a lot of the instrumental mood-lighting within the set. The accompaniment can make or break a song, and this set of musicians definitely added much of the appeal to Laswell’s music.
Throughout the night, Laswell was relatable, humorous and an all-around nice person, but actions speak louder than words.
In the front row, right in front of Laswell’s piano, was a couple who had been married for just over four years. During the show, they mentioned how one of Laswell’s songs was a part of their wedding. Unfortunately, their song was not a part of the original setlist. Laswell heard about this and decided to do a special encore just for them and sang their song. By doing so, he proved that his fans meant more to him than just a paycheck. It was such a sincere and intimate moment for the entire audience. Many left the M-Shop with teary eyes, a perfect ending to a rainy evening.