When the Hotel Cafe opened in 2000, it was with musicians like singer-songwriter Lissie in mind. The Illinois-born former Beachwood Canyon resident returned to her early-career roots at the 200-cap space on Tuesday night for an acoustic set, bringing things full circle for the singer.
Joined on stage by guitarist Nick Tesoriero, Lissie played a stripped-down set featuring many crowd favorites from her decade-long career as a recording artist. The set featured a wide mix of songs, with five coming from her latest album My Wild West — a record that is very reflective of her time spent as a southern California resident before she moved back to the Midwest, to Ohio.
Lissie kicked things off with “The Habit” from 2013’s Back to Forever. The first time I saw Lissie was in 2013 at the Fonda and she was touring in support of that record. It was one of the first L.A. gigs I ever saw before I moved to the city permanently in 2014. I actually won tickets to the show but wrote up a review of the gig and sent it off, beginning an unexpected foray into writing about music that has led me here. I’d missed multiple opportunities to see her since, including at SXSW last year at Willie Nelson’s ranch. The weather was so bad that they wouldn’t let me on the grounds until much later, so I missed an epic moment where she performed acoustic for the people trapped on the ranch.
During her set, Lissie would reflect on her early times spent writing and performing music, wondering if she was crazy for even considering she could make it as a musician. She spoke of the odd jobs she held in order to keep the lights on — from selling honey to farmers markets and doing food demonstrations at grocery stores. It probably spoke to many people in the crowd who had to do wacky things in order to find comfortable living in Los Angeles — it certainly spoke to me. It may have also lifted people up who are still working towards finding that comfort, letting them know that it’s hardly been easy for anyone.
During the show, Lissie provided rhythm guitar while Tesoriero laid down some incredible solos throughout the set. It isn’t as though Lissie is incapable of playing the more difficult guitar parts. When I saw her years ago at the Fonda, it was she who laid down the solos while she had someone else in her band playing rhythm guitar. It did allow Tesoriero to make a big impression on the crowd, and his backup vocals also complemented Lissie’s voice nicely. They had a great rapport on stage, particularly during “When I’m Alone” (one of my favorites) and a cover of Neil Young’s “Razor Love” — a song that was more-or-less a duet between the two.
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Lissie’s voice is so powerful and the Hotel Cafe is a space so confined that she hardly needed the microphone she was provided to reach everyone in the crowd. It was a respectful crowd — one that didn’t really order drinks at the bar during the quieter moments of her set. There were a couple of inebriated fans that couldn’t help but shout words of adulation at Lissie in between songs, to which the singer was extremely grateful. When another crowd member shouted for one of the chatty people to shut up, Lissie shut them down, saying that she didn’t want anyone telling someone to shut up at her shows.
“Everywhere I Go” was the song that first made me aware of Lissie, from her 2010 debut Catching a Tiger. I want to say I heard it in a movie or TV show, the song is very cinematic. Lissie talked about writing it in her small L.A. digs and how she used to dream of playing Hotel Cafe in her early days in the area. She also talked about how the venue has helped foster a lot of singer-songwriters’ careers, naming Meiko in specific as someone she really looked up to (and still does). It’s places like the Hotel Cafe that make L.A. stand out.
“In Sleep” is one of my favorite Lissie tracks — it shows that Lissie is more than your typical singer-songwriter and she can be a bad ass rock star whenever she chooses. It’s a song that makes a larger impression live than it does as a studio recording as Lissie brings an inspiring passion to the performance. Even though her voice carries a different style, I couldn’t help but think that seeing Lissie is a bit what it may have been like seeing Janis Joplin sing. The fantastic dress she wore certainly was reminiscent of the ’70s. A performance of “Ojai” — an ode to the place she spent several years — came before her rousing rendition of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness,” another song that brought attention to the singer early on.
Though she didn’t perform any new material, Lissie said she was working on new stuff as she works towards putting together a follow-up to last year’s My Wild West. Considering her strength as a songwriter, I don’t expect us to be waiting long to hear what she comes up with.
Want a taste of what you missed Tuesday night? Listen to Lissie play acoustic on her Live at Union Chapel record below.
Photos courtesy of Nicola Buck