When I ventured across town to H Street N.E. last weekend, I didn’t know quite what to expect. It was my first time in that part of the city and at The Rock and Roll Hotel, which has recently been booking some of the best small shows in DC. It was also my first time seeing the delightful Laura Stevenson and her band, The Cans, live.
I can’t precisely pinpoint the first time I heard the sweet pop-infused folk and roots tunes of Brooklyn native Laura Stevenson, but I am damn glad that her first record, simply titled A Record, has been sitting in my iTunes library for the better part of two years. Her exalted melodies, often bolstered by horns, strings, and the occasional accordion presence, bring something majestic and beautiful to everyone who has the pleasure to experience them. Stevenson, 29, started off her career playing keyboard for the Brooklyn based punk/ska band Bomb the Music Industry! While touring with them, she began writing her own songs, and started to bring together a supporting band, which ultimately resulted in her transition to a solo artist. In addition to A Record, she put out Sit Resist in 2011, and Wheel just last week.
One of the best parts about seeing Laura Stevenson & The Cans live is having the privilege, if only for an hour or two, of being around Laura. When she first came out for the sound check, the entire crowd suspended their knowledge that this woman, this gorgeous, witty, down to earth musician, was who they had paid $15 to see. Instead, we collectively waited to show our admiration until the lights dimmed, the house music was switched off, and she strode on to the stage with her band and a smile.
Opening with “Every Tense,” which starts with soft guitar but quickly begins to soar in a fashion her fans have grown accustomed to, Stevenson quickly found her confidence and stage presence. With the aid of The Cans, she effortlessly moved through the first part of her set, showcasing new material and establishing a comfortable rapport with the audience. She answered the near constant stream of heckles and shout-outs, and chuckled at the drunken ones (“HAPPY 4/20!”). As she moved further into the night, she brought out some of the highlights from her first album, including “Baby Bones” and “A Shine To It.” As for her band, multi-instrumentalist Alex Billig, who stands in on most numbers at the accordion or keyboard, brought striking beauty to almost every number, especially during crowd favorites “Mouthbreather” and “808.”
Personally, the highlight of the night had to be “L-DOPA,” a grand, earth-shattering tune that combines the many talents of The Cans with Laura’s sweeping, endless voice. People rocked out, people made out, people had fun. By the time the song ended, the crowd was begging for more, and the night came to a close with a stirring rendition of “Master.”
Ultimately, the sheer loveliness that is Laura Stevenson and the magical place she brings her listeners to serves as a reminder that good music can be important and beautiful without being super original or new. It’s powerful, and I’m extremely thankful I got a chance to see her.