Deee-Lucius: A Cult Fave Comes to the Berkshires
When Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig sing together in their Brooklyn-based band Lucius, they create a third being, an ethereal presence greater than the sum of its parts, a voice haunting, playful, yearning, and sexy. Depending on the song, that voice can conjure kohl-eyed, bee-hived 1960s girl groups, Cocteau Twins otherworldliness, or high lonesome Americana. Lucius brings this eclectic, rousing omnipop, delivered with old-school theatrical style, to The Log at Williams College on Saturday, February 23, at 8 p.m. (NOTE: This performance has just sold out. A wait list is available, but if you can’t get in you’ll have a chance to seem them in June at MASS MoCA’s Solid Sound Festival.)
Rural Intelligence caught up with the singing-songwriting front women via cellphone, while they were in a Philadelphia restaurant, flush from a sold-out night at the club Milkboy. Wolfe and Laissig, with cohorts Danny Molad, Peter Lalish, and Andrew Burri, were preparing to jump into their tour van, named “Tim,” to barnstorm another town en route to Berkshire County. The gals scamper outside to discuss Lucius’ acclaimed eponymous EP, their viral NPR Tiny Desk Concert, and fans chiming in on the choruses during shows. Like the Lucius stage act, in which neither woman ever sings solo, they conduct themselves as one, finishing each other’s sentences, keeping to a well-honed story, and laughing easily. The following quotes are attributed to “they” because, as with the Lucius listening experience, tweezing the two women apart, especially via AT&T, is nigh impossible.
They met as voice majors at Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 2005, soon developing a writing partnership. When I ask about previous musical exploits, they say, haltingly, “Lucius is our baby… our first and only.” Yet, as in music, the pauses are as telling as the notes.The official bio is pithy and mysterious, presenting the delicious, economical notion that they burst fully formed like twin Athenas from the head of Zeus into the hipsterdom of Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. Ensconced with eight musician roommates in a haunted Victorian house, they wrote much of their EP, conceived a visual style of big hair bows, pencil skirts, and ruby lips, and attracted top-drawer producer Tony Berg (Beck, Aimee Mann). In short order, they beguiled everyone from The New York Times to Seventeen. End of beginning of story. The mighty Google, however, reveals not only a 2009 incarnation of the band and an out-of-print debut CD, but also Jess Wolfe’s impressive audition for season nine of American Idol. (She got a “Golden Ticket” to LA.) A-ha.
All of the above helps explain Wolfe’s and Laissig’s vocal, instrumental, and performing chops, beyond the ken of the usual indie act. Nothing, however, explains the drama of their combined voices. “We sound completely different when we sing separately,” they say, “but when we sing together it sounds like a distinct entity.” The seamlessness is both sonically and visually mesmerizing. “We always sing together, and we’ve grown familiar with each other’s voices and intuitions.” Even in the studio, like Simon & Garfunkel before them, they sing in tandem into one microphone.
And they are showfolk, moving with rock n’ roll grace before a crackerjack band of guys sporting bow ties, matching white shirts, ample facial hair, and suspenders, neighbors who “just showed up” when “everything fell into place.” Curvy Wolfe and willowy Laissig deck themselves out in striking, conspicuously identical, self-altered clothes, vintage or off-the-rack from H & M. They invoke the Shangri-La’s one minute — especially in their top-notch video for “Turn It Around” — and reverb-drenched 80s balladry the next, then slide-guitar filled, futuro-roots-rock.
Although Wolfe and Laissig leapfrog stylistically, the through-line in Lucius’ oeuvre is hooks. Increasingly, audiences are singing along. “It’s awesome,” the gals say. “Onstage, we look at each other with a smile in our eyes. It’s an incredible feeling.” When I ask if recent song placements in Grey’s Anatomy and MTV’s Catfish bring folks out, they say yes, but nothing compares, exposure-wise, to the Tiny Desk Concert. In this unamplified bravura performance amid NPR’s Bob Boilen’s office clutter, they employed Boilen’s niece’s toys as percussion instruments, and lit up the room with megawatt charisma and tantalizing “who are these women?” mystery. As Lucius ascends, that mystery may fall away, but the songs and the style will carry these ambitious ladies through. See them in a small place while you can. —Robert Burke Warren
The Solid Sound Festival
MASS MoCA, North Adams