Source: @JessicaClackum (Release The Clackum), @MarimbaGrl, @TheSouthernNut
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Hugh Laurie and The Copper Bottom Band Blues Party
There is something to be said when it comes to the authenticity of concerts. There is sometimes a question as to whether a concert is executed for actual album promotional purposes or for mere love of the excitement of the actual act. In the case of Hugh Laurie, I tend to believe in the latter. This became especially apparent after seeing Mr. Laurie perform live at the Town Hall Theater in New York, City on October 25.
There was no question that Hugh was having the time of his life on stage with the support of a very enthusiastic crowd. While some may have considered Mr. Laurie’s stage antics as goofy and awkward, I saw them as a man living his dream and relishing every moment of it. He served as the Master of Ceremonies for a large raucous party to which you were the invited guests. As a guest, I couldn’t help but clap, toe-tap and sing along because the energy of Mr. Laurie and his musical entourage was infectious. There was no way one could have walked out of that theater without feeling happy, uplifted and inspired.
What was also pleasing to observe was Hugh’s affection for the members of the band. This was especially apparent in the many times when Sista Jean McClain and Gabby Moreno had solos and Hugh went and hugged them after each performance. He let it be known that he feels unworthy to be sharing the stage with their talents. However, his gratitude is displayed after each moment he takes with them afterwards. It’s almost like his way of thanking them for taking this leap of faith with him. In return, the band members show the same kind of respect and encouragement that he extends to them. On stage, they are all one big happy musical family and it shows immensely.
Hugh has pretty much surrounded himself with possibly the best musicians I’ve ever seen. Therefore, when he continually gushes about them, it is obvious why….they are indeed that good.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a blues trombone player such as Elizabeth Lea. The growl and earthy rawness she produces from that trombone captures the very essence of the style of the music and mimics that of an actual blues singer, a technique only a skilled player can capture. I had no problem telling her how awesome she was after the show, because she indeed deserved the accolade. My music teacher utopia was also enhanced by the warm tone and finger agility of reed player Vincent Henry. I swear I don’t think I’ve even seen that many reed instruments being played by one person. So many sweet sounds emanated from the likes of the clarinet, saxophone and baritone. Oh, and Vincent is an excellent harmonica player as well. Fueling the heartbeat of the band was Herman Matthews on set, complete with colorful neckwear and pretty much Hugh’s band member bodyguard after the show. Not to be outdone by the instrumentalists, Sista Jean McClain and Gabby Moreno provided soul power nested in the depths of those amazing pipes of theirs. Nothing soaring from those golden throats was over the top and you felt every note that resonated from their very lips. Not to mention, Jean sold many of the songs with her facial expressions and mannerisms as well. Academy Award, Grammy, Tony Award, just hand them all to Jean. Sista Jean also served as cheerleader for both Hugh and the audience. I couldn’t help but hoot and holler with her. She assisted in helping to motivate the crowd and it worked. I don’t think there was one person who didn’t stand up and dance during the multitude of encores.
We pretty much lost count of how many encores there were, which is a testament to how engaged the audience was and how appreciative the band was for the energy of the audience. Also, showing her true musician colors, Gabby produced some great resonant tones on the guitar and yes the ukulele! Joining Gabby in the stringed instrument department were Mark Goldenberg on guitars and banjo and David Piltch on string bass (there always has to be a walking bass line in blues music.) Afterwards, Mr. Piltch came out telling the crowd how awesome they were. I then yelled to him, “No, you were awesome!” He then responded to me by saying, “No, you were awesome!” Musicians are the most appreciative people in the world. The Copper Bottom Band members deserved all the praise they received that night. Having an understanding of how hard it is and how much it means to hear people tell you you’ve done a good job, I had no qualms of making my feelings to each band member known. Heck, I even tipped my hat to the stage crew who had to load an abundant amount of stuff onto the trailer. One of the crew members smiled
As for the man himself, Hugh Laurie has nothing to be embarrassed about in regards to his musical capabilities. While he may not be a Sinatra, Bublé, or Connick Jr. in the vocal department, he’s definitely far from bad. Hell, no one complained about Louis Armstrong’s singing. Armstrong is a legend and Mr. Laurie to me isn’t far behind. Mr. Laurie also has mad piano skills, a fact of which I am insanely jealous since I’m lucky if I can plunk out a chord or two. Hugh Laurie glides across the keys flawlessly and has the nuances of the blues and boogie woogie styles nailed. His passion and ear for the genre is well presented, and his knowledge of the historical aspects of the songs served as the perfect narrator for the concert. What’s even more astounding is that not once did I ever see or feel his alter ego, House. All I saw was Hugh Laurie musician, entertainer, teacher and basically the man who reinvented himself. Furthermore, Mr. Laurie was gracious, charming and friendly when greeting fans briefly outside. Poor man was pressed for time, because the concert was over late and he had to catch the bus to Tonawanda at midnight. The concert ended at eleven and equipment wasn’t all loaded until after midnight. Regardless, Mr. Laurie did make the effort to greet fans, take pictures, sign autographs (for which I am eternally grateful for obtaining one), and to thank fans for their attendance at the evenings’ soirée.
In describing the overall experience of the concert atmosphere, I would akin it to being at one of the best parties ever with music and dancing, whiskey and infectious exuberance all around.
To conclude, just as Hugh and The Copper Bottom Band toasted the city during the all famous whisky break Friday night, I extend a toast to them for one hell of a damn fine time!
Keeping the blues alive!
I had the pleasure to see Hugh Laurie and the Copper bottom Band at Town Hall in NYC on Friday, October 25. The concert hall is a beautiful, intimate setting with a great sound system.
Hugh of course, was his usual charming self. He is beyond doubt, the ultimate entertainer, with an important difference: his deference to the talent of the musicians he shares the stage with. The Copper Bottom Band were as magnificent as always, from returning members Vincent Henry on "all things reedy" as Hugh put it, to Sister Jean belting out her spotlight numbers and always supporting the lead vocalist strongly. New members Herman Matthews on drums and the amazing Gaby Moreno on vocals added to the richness of the band's performance.
Hugh, as many know, can wear various hats with ease. Whether engaging in banter with the audience, telling tales of the road, playing a rollick song like "Goin' To The Mardi Gras" or a soft, soulful song like "Careless Love", he commands the stage; you simply cannot take your eyes off of him. He is clearly much more comfortable this tour than last year. While 2012, the self-effacing humor of "I don't know what I'm doing", left you wondering if at some point that was going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This time, that same sort of statement was said with more of a wry tone and a wink of the eye. While his ego was still very much in check, you could see that he felt much more at home this time around.
The highlight of the evening, music aside, was meeting Hugh. He graciously signed autographs and I was lucky enough to engage in a brief conversation with him, explaining that my love of the blues came from my father, also a piano player of the blues. He seemed rather pleased by my story and gave me a nod, a smile and "Thank you, so much for coming."
Thank you, Hugh, for keeping this genre of music alive!
Thoughts on a Great Experience
by Julie Pulliam
So, over two weeks – October 25, to be exact – since I saw Hugh Laurie and the Copper Bottom Band at Town Hall theatre in New York City. The experience is still fresh and vibrant in my mind’s eye. For me, seeing Hugh in concert was what I expected it to be, and more. I’ve read other fan reviews and watched videos, but they don’t match the experience of being there to see it live. I was on the sixth row, center aisle, in a lovely mid-size theatre with wonderful acoustics. The audience was a mixture of ages (the woman in front of me had to be at least 70, and was on her feet taking pictures of Hugh with her smartphone!). When we made our way to the seats and I saw the stage, I felt at home. I knew what was coming, and I was counting down the minutes until show time.
I’m sure anyone reading this already knows the set list, the jokes, the entrances and the exits, so I won’t repeat any of that. The only specifics of the concert I’ll mention are that yes, Hugh has a “serviceable” voice, as one professional reviewer put it. It gets him where he needs to go, but he has so many other ways of reaching the audience that this is a minor shortcoming, in my opinion. And while the set list as a whole worked wonderfully for me, there were one or two songs that didn’t, but these are minor quibbles. Overall, just a lovely, well-staged performance by all.
My most lasting impressions of the night though are that this is a performance that Hugh and the band truly share with the audience. I felt as though I were part of what they were doing, that they wanted to impart to the audience their love for the music and their joy in performing. At other concerts, I’ve felt the performers were up on stage and the audience was out there somewhere apart, and even if the performance was great, it was just that, a performance for an audience and tomorrow it would be the same for another audience.
Of course, Hugh and the band are also doing the same performance for each audience, but there is a different spirit to it that’s hard to explain. I think Hugh especially, reveals a part of who he really is for these minutes on stage; his passion and absolute joy is palpable and washes over the audience in waves. In my opinion, he is not in the “teaching” mode about the blues as much as he was in previous years’ concerts. He’s looser, telling more jokes perhaps, and the set list has strayed from strictly blues to other genres that also give others in the band a chance to shine. Taking the spotlight off himself during the show lets him conserve his energy and enthusiasm and use it to best effect, whether in a song or the vaunted “whiskey break.”
One final observation: seeing him on stage, as compared to some of those interviews we all watched or read during the House years, the transformation is just amazing. And his partners in crime support him every step of the way. Of course, Gaby and Sista Jean are his chief cheerleaders, and he theirs. As singers, they connect with the audience and truly had us in the palm of their hands. Especially Jean, she is not shy about making eye contact with audience members and encouraging the audience to participate. Elizabeth Lea also brought incredible reaction from the audience with her mastery of the trombone. But they all have wonderful chemistry together. There is a comfort level for Hugh on stage that is so interesting to observe. He is master of all he surveys, and I could not be happier for him.
I know everyone won’t react to a Hugh Laurie concert the way I did but for me, that’s ok, because he has given me a great gift, to see that there are possibilities in life beyond the here and now, and I hope he keeps on giving. I’m curious to see where his music career goes: will post-House crowds lose interest or keep coming back, will record sales justify more albums beyond those already promised, will he get tired of touring, will a great TV script lure him back to that world, or a meaty movie role, will he buy a house in NOLA and play the local clubs every week a la Jon Cleary, or will he open a blues club in London and be happy there for the duration? Who knows, but I’ll be watching. And I can’t wait for the next concert.