My first experience at Capitol Theatre left a long-lasting impression thanks to both the warm and welcoming setting, and the performer, Sondre Lerche, who filled up the room with his effervescent charisma and heart-tugging melodies. [Text by Leilani, photos by Phil]
The historic downtown Clearwater theater is one of the oldest operating in Florida right now (est. 1922), and possesses the tasteful grandeur of old Hollywood — gold picture frame molding on the walls, a few with colorful old-fashioned scenes of Florida projected into their centers, crystal chandeliers dripping soft light from the ceiling, crimson velvet curtains falling onto the polished wood floor of a stage looking out onto the 650-seat theater and its intimate mezzanine.
On this Wednesday night, 150 or so enchanted fans of the Norway-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist were in attendance, all seated in the first dozen or so rows of the theater, many of them female. Lerche — casually dressed in faded gray jeans, white t-shirt, sport coat that was eventually shed, and loafers — stepped onto the stage alone, with no fanfare, greeted the audience, and launched into a 15-song set that was stripped-down to only guitar and his strong, clear and buttery smooth vocals.
He was delighted with the theater's impeccable acoustics and changed up his setlist on the fly, telling us he wanted to dust off some material to perform in this particular setting. "Now I skipped two songs, do I play them, or something else?" he asked us at one point, joking that he tends to write setlists with too many options, and discards options as he goes so that sometimes, he can't even follow along himself. The theme of the night seemed to be "I haven't done this one in a while" or "I haven't tried this one acoustically" — which he laughed about before "Tied to the Tide," commenting "This could be a disaster, so if it is, just keep it between you and me." But save for a small snafu during a cover of Cole Porter's "In The Still of the Night" (which he confessed to having only just learned), he pretty much nailed whatever he attempted.
He hit high notes with ease, his tender melodies winding up to the rafters and into our waiting ears, and jumped between two guitars, a dark wood acoustic and bright blue hollow-body electric, holding us in thrall with his charming wit and engaging personality. Some songs worked well in the acoustic setting, like "Richochet" or "Coliseum Town," both off his latest. The latter he delivered entirely acoustic, unplugging his guitar and coming to sit on the edge of the stage where he serenaded us with legs swinging. Others songs were given the acoustic treatment and worked despite the lack of instrumental embellishments, the melodies and rhythms translated via Lerche's impeccable, sometimes energetic strumming and foot-stomping or tapping. He even offered up some clever vocal and instrumental trickery to make up for the harder-to-translate arrangements and more psychedelic parts of songs like the aforementioned "Tied to the Tide" (from his latest) and "Dead Passengers" (off his debut).
But the evening's most memorable moments came during the encore, when he took a few requests. While performing the bittersweet "Stupid Memory" off 2004's Two Way Monologue, he related a story about how he always forgot why he stopped playing this song until he got to the refrain, which reminded him of a conversation he had with a former tour manager who once told the musician he always thought Lerche was singing "Stupid Mammary." And in a classic "Doh!" moment, after he shared, Lerche hit the refrain and just couldn't make himself finish because he knew (and we knew) that all of us were singing "Stupid Mammary" in our heads. The final song of the night, "Modern Nature," was by far the best known one. The cut off his debut later made famous via its inclusion in Dan in Real Life (the Steve Carell comedy featuring a Lerche-composed soundtrack) prompted the night's lone sing-along, though it was more like a harmonize-along as the mostly-female audience took up the soprano-pretty harmonies to Lerche's soft tenor. It was relentlessly sweet and poignant.
On a side note, I managed to completely miss Peter Wolf Crier, but their two-song sit-in with Lerche and the fact that they were on a bill with him inspired me to check out their new album, Garden of Arms, which I am enjoying immensely thus far.
When the River
Tied Up to the Tide
Go Right Ahead
My Hands Are Shaking
Coliseum Town [completely unplugged]
In the Still of the Night [Cole Porter cover]
Dear Laughing Doubters
On the Tower (with Peter Wolf Crier)
Sleep on Needles (with Peter Wolf Crier)