THE LADY REAPPEARS
A Hero’s Welcome for a Maine Original
On March 13, 2015, a sold out crowd at Port City Music Hall eagerly anticipated the arrival of one of the state’s proud musical products. No, not Lenny Breau (RIP, by the way), but rather a compact dynamo of an individual that goes by the name of Lady Lamb (née Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, née née Aly Spaltro).
This would be my first experience seeing an artist in a live setting that has done the unthinkable: made it out of the state of Maine and come back, not with tail between their legs, but firmly established with many outposts throughout the country as well as parts of others. There was certainly a different feeling in the air, a feeling that this would not just be a routine concert, but a celebration, a homecoming.
The first act of the night was Henry Jamison, a musician who had spent some time in the Portland area as the leader of The Milkman’s Union, but now resides in Vermont. Jamison had command of his voice – a mellow, yet haunting sound that felt very much at home nestled in reverb.
The occasional appearance of an upright bass, especially when bowed, added to the melancholy of the sound, but also added a roundness and directness that the solo acoustic songs did not, or weren’t meant to, have in the first place.
If Henry Jamison’s set left all at the show in a contemplative state of mind, it was quickly whisked away by the eclectic sounds of Brooklyn’s Cuddle Magic. I know it’s an overused word, but how can a band not be eclectic when they have a vibraphone, clarinet, trumpet, and double bass at their disposal? I’m still trying to make sense of Cuddle Magic, which may be missing the point. They seem to pride themselves on their ability to be musical chameleons. No two songs were ever alike, but there were common elements that held them together, namely their tight vocal harmonies, stomping beats, and emphasis on returning melodic motifs.
Cuddle Magic is a band that leans heavily in synthesizing sounds, and I strongly detected elements of hip hop, jazz, folk, and a splash of ELO for good measure (And yes, I desperately wanted to namedrop ELO in this review). For some reason I even heard Evanescence and Tower of Power also, but I had a fever that night and I’m pretty sure I saw a kangaroo in a business suit as well (or was it Jonathan Lethem?).
As strong and distinct as the first two acts were, it was clear who the audience came to see. The moment Lady Lamb took the stage, a buzz in the crowd began. It was an appreciation for someone who was one of their own and had come back to give thanks.
The set began with a burst of energy that didn’t let up. I was initially reminded of PJ Harvey as Lady Lamb and her homegrown band (Derek Gierhan on drums, TJ Metcalfe on bass) ripped through some heavy tracks featured on her newest album (After released on Mom + Pop Music), but the band still had a feel that was all their own. Within the hard driving songs that oscillated between muddy, Neil Young power chords and Eastern-tinged grooves, Spaltro’s voice was always front and center: a blend of self-possession and vulnerability.
In the middle of the set, Lady Lamb settled into a more intimate grouping of songs, many of which premiered during Spaltro’s earlier years in Portland. The energy ramped up once more as the band returned to full rock mode for the remainder of their time on stage.
Without a doubt this was a special show for the artist. She went out of her way several times to express her gratitude to those who have always supported her and her love for a state that runs deep enough to be branded on her left arm. There was even a point where she gave a shoutout to her cousin in the audience whose shirt she was wearing.
If only every show could be this celebratory.
Please note: We received free admission in exchange for this review.