Stephen Sanchez debuts at The Troubadour

Stephen Sanchez Troubadour VS mainbar

Nashville-based Stephen Sanchez played the first of two sold-out nights Thursday at The Troubadour, and the 21-year-old breakout star was full of emotion sharing the historic room with fans for his first-ever North American tour. The crooner’s 50s-era stylings hit a sweet spot on the love songs, but his material goes well beyond the era, with tempo, rock, folk, and some major covers as he was joined by four band members including guitarist Brooks Gengenbach, Jesse Houle on bass, Watson Maack on drums and newest member Anson Eggerss on keys. The delightful Cece Coakley was the tour opener, a close friend of Sanchez and a wonderful singer and guitarist in her own right. Pop singer Olivia O’Brien attended the show.

LOS ANGELES, CA — MARCH 9, 2023 Cece Coakley performing at the Troubadour, opening for Stephen Sanchez. Both from Nashville. Photos by Victoria Smith

Singer-songwriter Cece Coakley played a six-song set wearing a white flowing dress, mentioning that she drove to LA for the gig. Coakley tuned her guitar and kicked off with “Terrify You With My Heart”, confident on her instrument and singing in a lovely tone, greeting the crowd part of the way through and warning that she was about to yell. The witty artist introduced “Listerine” as a song about a mean boy, comparing the boy to mouthwash. She said “Oh my god, you know the words” to a fan after about two bars of the pretty ballad, later mouthing the guitar solo and joking about it since there was no accompaniment. “Anything” was preceded with a description of being “about a boy not liking her back” and then she mentioned the twist that he’s now her boyfriend. After noticeable laughter from the crowd, the gentle, acoustic ballad was one of her best with the lyric, “And I wonder what it’s like inside your mind, I would pay the entrance fee to understand what you might think of me.” “I want to thank Stephen for having me out, he’s one of my best friends in Nashville”, said Coakley. Her voice carried really well on love song “Cliché” with easy-going “ba da das.” “Happy Adjacent” was melancholy, with some powerful vocal moments that peeked out of the calm ones about that “feeling like you have no idea what to do with your life.” Cece Coakley’s final song “Halfway” was about “the feeling of being stuck with someone”, a new one that she was firm about the crowd participating on, teaching the catchy “oh-ohs”. 

LOS ANGELES, CA — MARCH 9, 2023 Stephen Sanchez performing at the Troubadour. -From Nashville on his first tour. Photos by Victoria Smith

Stephen Sanchez‘s band took the stage and four blinding orbs in red were illuminated, with changing colors throughout the set, while the entrance audio was brief blips of the artist singing different songs, interrupted like the changing of an old car radio. Sanchez entered and the rowdy fans responded as their star stood atop a speaker with his arms out in a red velvet suit and a white tee performing Easy On My Eyes opener “Hey Girl”. Sanchez held the mic tight at the stand for the pretty love song with his voice soaring by the 2nd verse with lively oohs, grabbing a guitar at the end and yelling simply, “Los Angeles.” With guitar in tow, it was a rather easy transition without a stop into the folk-rock high-energy “Hold Her While You Can.” The three guitars —from Sanchez, Gengenbach and Houle (bass) felt great while the crowd screamed and hopped in place, singing along. The band rocked out by the end with red and yellow hues blazing around them, Sanchez holding out a really pleasant note, later enjoying a moment standing atop the drum set area while he played guitar for a short reprise.

Hands were clapping at the top of “Kayla”, a sort of nostalgic folk-rock tune with a pretty vocal with a light but noticeable pulse from Maack on the drums. “How you doing, you alright?,” asked Sanchez. “This is insane. Holy shit, this is awesome. I’m just taking it all in really. Y’all ready? We’re ready to give it to you.” Falsetto was a focal point on “Lady by the Sea” with some complex drum beats carrying the song. Sanchez encouraged some crowd participation on the “oh my lady by the sea, yeah, come lie next to me” lyric, and he showcased the highs and lows in his voice by the end with some vocal runs.

Sanchez hit a groove with three consecutive songs that were some of the best of the night, starting with the organic ballad “Please Don’t Go Home Yet.” The stage was awash in orange, just beautiful with fans singing quietly as Sanchez’s noticeable vibrato was met with quite an emotional guitar moment from Gengenbach. The performer plucked a wonderful guitar melody on “Mountain Peaks”, taking on a nice pace by the chorus and first verse, becoming more mid-tempo even though it’s still a folk ballad at its core. He hit his upper register as the strobes flashed and the band went kind of wild, with the crowd matching the energy. “See The Light” was a really infectious ditty with an anthemic Americana, almost bluegrass element that really impressed across the board, like the way a Mumford & Sons or The Lumineers song unites.

“Thank you all so much for being here,” said Sanchez. Someone gave him a framed picture of what looked like a sketch of a bald man or skeleton. “This is our first tour ever, it’s completely sold out. I can’t believe we get to do this twice. So many of our heroes have played here, this is amazing.”

After introducing his band, they played “I Want You”, quite beautiful on piano (Sanchez even gave Eggerss a kiss) on what was described as “a really sad song.” Pink and blue lights hit Sanchez and his band for 2021 What Was, Not Now tune “The Pool” with the pink orbs spinning around during a special band instrumental that highlighted the guitars and the drums. For newer single “Evangeline”, The Troubadour felt like a 1950s dance hall with the disco ball shimmering out over the band and the crowd with Sanchez leaning over the mic stand in full swagger mode hitting some endearing falsetto.

Stephen Sanchez treated the audience to a new song, “Only Girl”, a doo-wop number with the piano pounding, bassist Houle was wooed over to Sanchez, giving Sanchez a smooch on the cheek and the singer offered some Frankie Valli vibes. “I’m so grateful,” said Sanchez. “Like I’m still a fan of all of this. I was just thinking about that in the green room is it just started with this, just myself in my bedroom.” This was said while alone on stage and he began another new one called “Stay”, where you could really hear the textures in his voice, which took on a slightly different form.

LOS ANGELES, CA — MARCH 9, 2023 Stephen Sanchez performing at the Troubadour. -From Nashville on his first tour. Photos by Victoria Smith

“If you love someone tonight hug and kiss them tight”, said Sanchez before a powerful cover of “Unchained Melody” with stellar big notes and vocals equally impressive on head voice and falsetto, accompanied only on the keys. Sanchez’s big duet “Until I Found You” was shared with Icelandic singer Laufey who harmonized beautifully as yellow lights enveloped them. A blues guitar solo from Gengenbach was tops and tonight it would be a surprise if original duet partner Em Beihold does not make a surprise appearance (the two performed on Corden last month).

The very appropriate Elton John smash “Benny and The Jets” was covered, fitting Sanchez’s voice well as he leaned into the beat with some hip thrusts while singing. Stephen Sanchez and his bandmates concluded with another new tune, “Amy and Mary”, an uptempo pop/rock song with funky guitars. The disco ball lit up the room one final time and Stephen (on guitar) faced guitarist Gengenbach for a rockstar moment as the whole place went crazy. The 85-minute set concluded and Sanchez could be seen in the above green room opening the curtain with his hands up, ecstatic about his historic show at one of West Hollywood’s finest.

Words by Michael Menachem
Images by Victoria Smith